Monkey Punches

Monkey Punches

Submitted by Brian on September 3rd, 2012 at 11:30 AM

9/1/2012 – Michigan 14, Alabama 41 – 0-1

[ED: I retreated into humor; Ace, being there, didn't have that option, and wrote a thing that is closer to the game column thing than this.]

So I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and have concluded that Michigan's biggest tactical error on Saturday night was not leaving Jerryworld ten minutes into the first quarter and wandering around Dallas until they'd had enough random encounters to go up several levels. Once Michigan had unlocked special abilities like Mystic Separation and acquired the Arm Of Elway, they could have returned to the field and resumed playing on a more even basis.

While this would take about three years and pose several logistical difficulties, there can be no debate this would have been a preferable to the solution Michigan's dunderheaded coaches decided on, viz., not running away at top speed apologizing profusely. By not fleeing to practice their skills on, like, bats and stuff, they ended up losing the game.

Worse, they ended up continuing the game, thus forcing a great many people to watch it. At no point did Al Borges deploy the EMP weapon he must have spent the offseason perfecting in lieu of figuring out what Denard Robinson is good at. So the broadcast continued unabated, except apparently in DC where DirecTV was on the fritz. (Wolverines in our nation's capitol: keep yourselves quarantined. You may be all that's left of us once the PTSD kicks in. You must continue to tell others of our sacrifice.)

As mentioned, a better strategy would have been to exit at top speed while splicing K-Pop videos into the feed.

One of 67,200,113 things that would have been preferable to watching football on Saturday night

But hey, I'm just a guy on the internet. Maybe I haven't thought this through. There are multiple strategies for successfully executing a game like Saturday's.

INVENT A TIME MACHINE. The classic. Go back to the point at which this game was agreed upon and describe to the decision-makers what the consequences will be. Unfortunately, in this case the only part of "nationally televised debacle on par with Chernobyl" that will be heard is "nationally televised," and nothing will change.

DRINK! Not working.

DRINK MORE! Nerft veruking erngerghf.

AFTER IT'S OVER, TELL PEOPLE YOU SUCK AND WILL PUT MORE SUGAR IN YOUR SAUCE. I'm not sure what the analog of putting more sugar in your sauce is but it's probably putting more MAN in your BALL down BY THE RIVER. This move was successfully executed by the guy who replaced the guy who only hears "nationally televised" at his old job and may be replicated here once the guy who only hears "nationally televised" has been safely quarantined in a relatively meaningless BS government job like governor.

Sorry, world, that you think we suck. We're going to try not to suck any more, and look, here's some guy who works for us. Very middle America, this guy. Puts garlic on the uniforms. How cool is that?

GO LIMP. Jesse Williams may believe you are rotten and wander off in search of salmon.

GIVE THE BALL TO A 5'8" SLOW GUY OVER AND OVER. Scratch this one.

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via MVictors

The weird thing about doing this and being this age is that you feel stuck. I did not know I was doing this when I started doing it and have felt grateful for my continued obsession it as various other people ranging from 30-50 have reported back on their waning interest in Michigan football, previously their alpha and omega. There's nothing sadder than the thing you used to think is amazing.

What I felt on Saturday was an intense jealousy of Orson/Spencer, who had a child a couple years back and is having another one. We're getting there, but not quite yet due to PhD things. It would have been nice to have a child to look at halfway through the second quarter and know with 100% certainty that what I was looking at was just a game that did not really matter.

I know this, or at least knew it. (I do not know this and never knew it even a tiny bit.) Now that the career is the game it is hard to figure out what's a reasonable response from a human, what's my response, and what's my response augmented by the fact that I've doubled down on fandom. All of it seems out whack, and never more so than on Saturday when a guy I've met a half-dozen times now, mostly at NYC Alumni Club events, was there. He's one of those magical guys who somehow makes a career out of writing stuff for Spin and the NYT Magazine and magazines that start "New York" and may or may not have additional bits in their name. He's been pitching an article about me at these organizations. He was taking notes.

At halftime I bellowed "THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT RUNNING DENAAAAARD" at the television. I knew that this was probably not wise with a man taking notes in the room, but only after I did it. There it was anyway. I'd already spent the entire first quarter telling myself not to say anything on twitter until the die had truly been cast.

So, I feel stuck, you know? I'm 33 now, the age when Jim McManus had his Age of Miracles and went to the World Series of Poker to write about it for Harper's, married and not disjointed and blessed by the cosmos. It's a hell of a football game to watch that makes you wish this stuff didn't have such a hold on you, but the first time I looked at the clock and boggled at how much time was left was in the first quarter.

henri-the-otter-of-ennu

It'll pass, I'm sure. It's just a hell of a football game to do that do you, to leave you blank and unthinking until you laugh in a way that frightens even you.

Bullets we need for this post so you can't use them, find others

The takeaway. DENNIS NORFLEET WOOOOOOOOOOO. He looked fast! And returned some kicks a moderate distance! And got lit up by Dee Hart! And Fred Jackson doesn't think he can play!

Some other stuff that's not about Norfleet for some stupid reason follows.

Alabama-Michigan[1]

Obligatory uniform opinion. Highlighter yellow emphatically not getting fixed, so the shoulder things combine with the pants to give off a blinding aura. If that was the goal—maybe Alabama won't even be able to look at us!—okay. I'm guessing it's not. Meanwhile, Alabama just wears their uniforms because they're Alabama. Their brand seems to be surviving.

At least Michigan got the helmet numbers right, amirite?

Blown out. I debated just posting the Hoke presser and saying "Hoke's voice is all you need to know about this game."

Obligatory Borges stuff. Guh. The best thing you can say is that once you're down 31-0 you might as well get out of there without getting anyone hurt. When the opponents are saying stuff like this

“I thought with the running back being out, I thought (Robinson) would’ve got more touches, because he’s a playmaker, he’s a good athlete, good player,” said Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson. “And I don’t know, it was a shock.”

…you totally outsmarted them. And yourself. Mostly yourself.  Any hopes you may be harboring that this will all work itself out and Denard's legs will be the primary engine of the offense are looking pretty sickly at the moment. At least we've been here before, and Borges has retreated to plot anew. Usually he comes back with "hey, this guy can run."

The only rationale I can think of that makes any sense is that Borges believed flat-out that Michigan could not run at all and wanted an offense predicated on that. I don't know how much I buy that given Alabama replacing a number of starters and football coaches' general self-belief, but the numbers are clear. From Bill Connolly:

In 2011, Michigan ran the ball 74 percent of the time on standard downs (national average: 60 percent), 40 percent on passing downs (national average: 33 percent). Despite pro-style intentions, the Wolverines catered to Denard Robinson's strengths for the most part and kept things run-heavy, especially when Toussaint caught fire late in the year.

Against Alabama on Saturday, though, the gameplan was quite different. In the first quarter, Michigan ran just five times on 11 standard downs (45 percent) and just once in six passing downs (17 percent). These are Air Raid percentages.

If Robinson has 30 carries against Air Force I'll again descend into the Walter White laugh. (Spoilers, obviously.)

Would have been nice to see what Robinson could have become in an offense that catered to—or even bothered to use—his primary skill. (Everything else would have been terrible, of course.)

Yeah, yeah, Robinson had reads and could have kept the ball blah blah. Planning to get Robinson carries when Alabama's defense decides not to put a guy on him on the read option is not a winning strategy.

Gardner WR stuff. Gardner probably took more snaps at WR than anyone else and looked like a 6'4" version of Darryl Stonum from 2008. He consistently looked over the wrong shoulder on deep stuff and his routes were crap. But he scored a touchdown and could have had a couple more long gainers if he wasn't going up against yet another Alabama cornerback from hell. Gardner didn't get an opportunity to catch that opening slant thanks to that Milliner kid and had a few more potential long completions broken up by the Alabama secondary. Milliner raked one out; a few others never got there.

Once Gardner's away from a 6'2" junior who was a five star and the #2 CB in his class to Rivals, he'll do fine. Unlike Stonum 2008, Gardner did find the ball even if it looked ugly as he did so.

Roundtree. The first interception was debatably interference as Milliner shoved Roundtree to the ground on his route. Penalty or not, that sequence should make Roundtree's shortcomings as an outside receiver clear. He is not big enough, strong enough, or athletic enough to compete with standout corners. His assets are about as wasted as Denard's, though at least in Roundtree's case it's clear he's on the outside because of a lack of other options.

The ground game. Hard to get a grasp on anything, obviously. Michigan was overwhelmed; Toussaint would not have done much better. Aside from one Vincent Smith run that Alabama lost contain on, Michigan got jack on the ground. I can ask questions all day: why was Rawls going east-west? Why was misdirection hardly attempted? Did Michigan come into the game with more than one running play?

It doesn't really matter.

Bubble screens. They existed, and they got eight yards each, and they were Michigan's best plays that weren't chucking it deep. Gallon looked very good on both; there's no reason not to keep going to it when the defense is giving it to you.

In case of Lewan emergency. Move Schofield to left tackle (where he was pwned on his first play), Omameh to right tackle, and bring in Burzynski at right guard. In case of Lewan emergency, we are dead dead dead dead dead dead.

Defense. Ask again later. I stopped paying close enough attention to tell you anything interesting after the first quarter.

The Countess injury is of course a major blow; with Talbott out the door earlier their CB depth has gone from excellent to shaky before game two. Webb says($) expect Raymon Taylor to pick up the slack. The line was always going to get pounded. Somewhat disconcerting to see a lot of James Ross out there unless Michigan had also just packed it in and was screwing around with getting some experience.

Freshmen. Maize and Blue News has a comprehensive recap. Other than Ross (and NORFLEET) the most prominent freshman contributor was Jarrod Wilson, who stepped in as the free safety in the nickel package as Michigan moved Thomas Gordon down to nickel. Pipkins looked like he got some push on a few plays, too.

We did not see much from Chesson and Darboh, but if Roundtree keeps playing like he is that won't last.

Your winner for dumbest burned redshirt: Royce Jenkins-Stone.

Well, at least this isn't particularly unusual. Various recent Alabama scores:

  • 2011 Citrus Bowl: Alabama 49, MSU 7
  • 2011 Arkansas: 38-14
  • 2011 Florida: 38-10
  • 2011 Tennessee: 37-6
  • 2011 Auburn: 42-14
  • National title game: 21-0 over LSU, LSU never crosses midfield.

Other than Georgia Southern, no team has put up more than 14 points on Michigan since Cam Newton's Auburn outfit.

Forever little brother. This is why Michigan State will always be Michigan State, and doesn't even include Delvon Roe:

Michigan is getting Raped right now. I bet Jerry Sandusky is proud lol #ROLLTIDE

Get your yuks in now.

At least it wasn't the most embarrassing thing to happen over the weekend. This GIF of Kentucky fans is destined to go head to head with Rollerblading Raptors Mascot someday:

KENTUCKY-FAN-HIGH-FIVE-FAIL

Don't forget the guy in the bottom corner and the dude left hanging at the top right. This is a gif as complex and layered as Yankee Enthusiasts and will in time take its place in GIF Valhalla.

Here

Inside the Boxscore returns:

Morgan had 8 tackles, but they were all assisted tackles, which epitomizes the game. In all of the one-on-one matchups, we lost. Bama was just more “-er” than us, bigger, stronger, faster, tougher. I avoided watching Bama last season because I hate that “ESS EEE SEE” crap, but there’s no denying how good they are.

As does Hoke For Tomorrow:

I turned off the TV after Bellamy's first career pass attempt/interception and made my way quietly upstairs to bed.  The rest of the family (wife, 5yo son, 1yo daughter) had long since decided that a good night's sleep was a better option than watching Michigan get smeared across the turf in Texas.  I didn't feel any bitter emotions really, mostly concern for the collective knees of Taylor Lewan, Blake Countess, and Brandon Moore.  I guess the Rich Rod years knocked all of the conceited sense of entitlement out of me for real.

See?

Elsewhere

Hinton is gloriously reborn and his article is mostly about Alabama, because obviously. The bit on Denard:

That said, Denard Robinson did not look like a quarterback on the verge of turning the corner as a passer. On one level, it's hard to judge a guy who's being consistently hit and hurried by a defense as relentless as Alabama's, which seems to have an answer for everything on almost every play. But Robinson was well below the Mendoza line tonight in terms of completion percentage (11 of 26), and his two interceptions in the first half were about as ugly – and as costly – as they come.

Star-divide

The first he simply put up for grabs, recklessly lobbing a jump ball in the direction of a receiver who had already been shoved off of his feet and out of bounds by Tide corner Dee Milliner, who found himself all alone to gather in the pick; Eddie Lacy scored three plays, extending 'Bama's lead to 21-0. On the second, Robinson stepped up in the pocket and drilled the ball directly into the chest of linebacker C.J. Mosley, who jogged in for an icing score that pushed the lead to 31-0. In both cases, Robinson had no idea what he was seeing when he put the ball in the air, and seemed more interested in getting rid of it under pressure for the sake of getting rid of, whatever the cost on the other end. Michigan fans have seen that before; all indications tonight are that they'll be seeing it again.

I think that The Hoover Street Rag is not correct:

We have a choice as fans.  We can sulk, we can lament, we can shake our fists in anger.  But I don't think we will.

That would be nice.

BWS:

In the second quarter, with Michigan trailing 24-0 and backed up inside their 10-yard line, Kirk Herbstreit was talking about Michigan's non-existant running game. The camera panned up to Al Borges in the coordinator's booth. After relaying the upcoming 3rd down play, Borges shook his head in disbelief and rubbed his face. It was the unmistakeable look of someone who had run out of answers, like working your way through a maze and finding only brick walls.

Touch the Banner:

Al Borges deserves some blame, but not much.  Michigan wasn't going to be able to run the ball in this game.  I predicted that Michigan would rush for fewer than 100 yards; the final tally was 69, despite having one of the most electrifying players in the country at quarterback.  Yes, Denard Robinson probably could have run the ball more, especially before he got dinged up.  Would it have made much of a difference?  Probably not.  Where Robinson really could  have made a difference was in the passing game.  He had lots of open receivers early in the game, but he's just as erratic as ever in the passing game.  He kept throwing deep (inaccurately), and completed just 11/26 passes.  The offensive line did a decent job of pass blocking, but if Michigan has to rely on Robinson to win the game with his arm, they're going to struggle.

Erratic, maybe, but I saw a lot of accurate-enough passes that would have been complete if not for Dee Milliner and other members of the Alabama secondary.

Wojo wrote a column. Maize and Brew did a thing. MGoRecruiting returns from the dead to pine for the spread 'n' shred. MLive now TWIS-ing their own readers. Big House Blog is not thrilled with Brandon. Me, I say that whenever you can get less money to play thousands of miles from campus against a team that's signed an extra recruiting class of players over the last five years without getting a home game in return, you have to do it.

At least the server held up, amirite?

Expectations Unlocked

Expectations Unlocked

Submitted by Brian on March 19th, 2012 at 11:36 AM

3/16/2012 – Michigan 60, OHIO(!!!) 65 – 24-10, 13-5 Big Ten, end of season

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I'm about to paint with the kind of broad brush that had a couple people call me kinda racist after I asserted that Illinois DT Corey Liuget and I probably didn't have a lot of common life experiences, but here goes anyway.

A guy on the internet asserted that there seemed to be a big gap between serious Michigan hockey fans and the rest of the Michigan fanbase in their reactions to Michigan's frustrating loss to OHIO(!!!) on Friday, and man do I see that. I did the usual kick-the-cat, drink-the-whiskey thing in the immediate aftermath, but then it was just… fine. It sucks for the guys, especially Zack and Stu, but they don't put up banners for getting to the Sweet 16. They do for winning the league, and Michigan did that.

The disappointment from the tournament is real, and I feel what Dylan evidently did after taking that punch in person…

In the present, the retrospection and drooling about the future can wait. This one hurts and there’s no sugarcoating it.

…it's just not viscerally there for me. The guys leaving brought Michigan from a program that hadn't been to the tournament since my dad was wearing his preposterous multicolor neon ski jacket to one that had been there three of four years, from a program that hadn't won the league since Joe Paterno was only kind of old to a sleeping giant with the alarm blaring in its ear. Their story is not Brandon Graham's. Their story isn't even Mike Martin's or Ryan Van Bergen's. It's better.

So, yeah, it's a downer. But if you've been trained in the fu of an April gut punch as well as Michigan hockey fans have, it ranks below… almost everything. Certainly the Nickelback goals and the Air Force horror and the black, burnt grass of an OT loss in the championship game. The hockey team is rarely facing a wall of doom in the bracket that promises to end things well short of the ultimate goal.

The loss doesn't erase the previous 34 games, or the previous hundred and change that saw Douglass set a record for the most games played in a career and Novak near it. The story of the outgoing guys is one of construction and triumph in the face of doubt. DJ Cooper going ham doesn't change that. Novak and Douglass have the luxury of exceeding all expectations, still and always.

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As for the game itself, Michigan was never a team that could go into an opening-round game with the outright expectation of victory. Kenpom had 'em by five and then the Bobcats and Michigan combined to do this:

The statistical outliers are what truly decide any game. DJ Cooper, a 31% three point shooter, hitting three-of-six NBA range triples. Or TJ Hall, a 27% three point shooter, knocking down a critical second half three, his only shot of the game. Add in Michigan, the ninth best two point shooting team in the country, missing nearly a dozen layups and Ohio, a 68% free throw shooting team, hitting 15-of-17 freebies.

Don't forget Ivo Baltic canning two or three fadeaway 15-footers with Novak's hand in his face. Yeesh. There is your ten-point swing.

There are teams featuring very long forwards and centers who can rely on their arms to dissuade opponents from that ability, teams that get second chances on a ton of missed shots, teams that are just so much of one thing or the other that an OHIO(!!!) can't hang with them unless the probabilities swing two or three standard deviations against them. Michigan was never that team.

They were the best mid-major in the country, per Mark Titus, and when the other team was chuckin' it real good there was always the chance this happened. It did, and if we're executing Real Talk neither Michigan getting hammered by OSU in the Big Ten tourney nor the early NCAA exit was unpredictable given the nature of the season. Evan Smotrycz was the second-most-credible post player on the team for the entire Big Ten season. Tim Hardaway Jr. took more threes than anyone else on the team by a good margin and hit 28% of them. I mean, come on.

I tried to warn us. We didn't listen!

None of that changes the narratives of the seniors or the trajectory of the program. Michigan just graduated two universally-beloved program builders and going-pro-in-something-other-than-sports icons who will get a banner sometime next fall. They welcome three top recruits and get a couple of guys off redshirts; collectively they should transform the program from scrappy overachieving underdogs to a full-on Big Ten power program.

After the cat was kicked and the whiskey consumed, it's hard to find something to brood on. If Beilein wasn't about to give his team an extreme talent makeover, we could complain about an artificially low ceiling. If Michigan hadn't broken its Big Ten title drought we could complain about our beloved program builders leaving without anything to mark their passage.

Neither of these things are true, so it seems the thing to do is salute the departed and look to the very near future. Godspeed, men taken from Valpo and Harvard. The last word goes to Novak:

"…coming in, personally, I was the fat kid from Indiana.

"And (we were) able to make three NCAA Tournaments, win the Big Ten in a year when it was the best conference in the country and win a lot of games. You have to keep things in perspective."

Bullets

The downer bit. I did find it very frustrating that Michigan never switched to a zone for extended periods of time. Michigan's initial forays into zone did give up open looks from three, but given Michigan's crap defense all night it seemed like it couldn't be worse than the man to man. Whereas most of Michigan's shortcomings seemed to be necessary adaptations to their limitations, the man-to-man insistence was one of those things that makes you wonder long-term.

Only slightly, though. Beilein has dumped his 1-3-1 already and adopted a bunch of ball screen sets. He's not exactly a stick in the mud. It was just a little surprising to see Michigan get cut up like that without a response.

It is possible that the coaches thought they were fine if they would just rotate better. Novak got caught in the paint time and again when he was one pass from the ballhandler and seemed to be a major reason OHIO(!!!) found itself with open looks from three.

Other downer. Michigan was down three late for about three straight possessions and the offensive devolved into… actually, this may be my memory playing tricks on me. The late-clock offense did feature Burke twice pulling up from three when a big switched onto him, but it also got Novak a corner three and Smotrycz yet another layup Michigan somehow did not convert

Burke finished the year shooting 35% from three and those were pretty easy to get. That might be the play given that you're down three.

Final numbers. A shooting profile of Michigan's returning contributors:

  • Burke: 75% from the line, 49% from 2, 35% from three.
  • Hardaway: 72%, 54%, 28%
  • Smotrycz: 78%, 53%, 44%
  • Morgan: 51%, 62%, N/A

Novak was the most efficient guy on the team, hitting 86/56/41 and having the lowest turnover rate but he and Douglass were also in the "limited roles" category on Kenpom. Michigan isn't replacing guys who did the heavy lifting on offense. To maintain their offensive efficiency they'll only have to get few extra shots generated by Burke, Stauskas, Hardaway, et al.

Returns. Speaking of "returning contributors," Burke and Hardaway said they'd be back in the aftermath:

"No, I'm coming back next year," the [Hardaway] said after Michigan's 65-60 NCAA Tournament second-round loss to Ohio on Friday. "I'm coming back."

Burke, who earned the co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year award this season and finished the year as the team's leading scorer, was right in step with his teammate.

"I'm definitely coming back," he said. "I'm just going to learn from this loss and get ready for next season."

Those are emotional postgame sentiments that may or may not hold up over time. Still, Hardaway is not much of a threat to leave after struggling with his shot most of the season and Burke probably has to be an All-American sort to get a lock first-round grade at his height. It doesn't seem likely either will change his mind, especially with the lockout backlog clearing up.

IT'S NOT MAGIC IT'S CHANCEArglebargle argle:

Late-game magic escapes when it matters most

Glarb glarb glarb.

Are we really talking about this? Yeah, Smotrycz turned the ball over when Michigan put him in a crappy situation with seven seconds left. He'd also put up 15 points on seven shots before that. We really need Daily article and message board threads defending the kid because e-loons are on his jock? Sometimes I hate people. Sometimes is almost all the time.

Butthurt. One thing this has really driven home is how amazingly butthurt OSU fans are about Brady Hoke calling them Ohio. It drives them nuts. Their reaction to this whole upset was as if it was some kind of vindication.

And yet they use "TSUN" constantly without recognizing the irony. Even operating under the assumption that many OSU fans are only technically human, that's surprisingly dumb.

Suddenly next year

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Stauskas, Robinson III, McGary

As this season wraps up, eyes turn towards next year. Michigan loses Stu Douglass and Zack Novak; they bring in freshmen Mitch McGary, Nick Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III. They also get bigs Max Bielfeldt and Jon Horford off of redshirts.

Though Novak was regarded as more integral to the team his absence is going to be easier to cope with. His minutes at the 3 and 4 will be fiercely contested by four or five players. Douglass's role as the go-to perimeter defender and secondary ballhandler… um. Michigan's best bets are Stauskas's nasty crossover immediately translating to the college level or a leap forward from Carlton Brundidge. Both are possible. Neither seems especially likely. If Michigan ends up with an unexpected scholarship dollars to donuts they scour for a backup at the one, whether it's the Italian kid with the 'fro or a grad-year transfer. If it's a grad-year guy, Beilein might sidle up to Max "My Name Is On Several Buildings At Illinois" Bielfeldt and delicately broach the idea he could pay tuition next year.

If that doesn't happen, one man's minute breakdown next year:

  • Point guard: Burke 35, Brundidge 5.
  • Shooting guard: Stauskas 25, Vogrich 15
  • Small forward: Hardaway 30, GRIII 10
  • Power forward: Smotrycz 20, GRIII 15, Bielfeldt 5
  • Center: McGary 15, Morgan 15, Horford 10

Center is up in the air. McGary could come in and establish himself as a 30 minute guy, in which case I'd bet that sucks up most of Horford's minutes. Christian and McLimans probably won't see the light of day.

That's an 8-9 man rotation with spot minutes from a couple other guys—Michigan's bench minutes should reach the middle of the pack.

Observations:

Michigan is suddenly huge. If Michigan actually sees the playing-time breakdown above, Michigan's average minute will go to a guy just under 6'6". (Assumptions: Stauskas and GRIII are listed at 6'6", McGary 6'10".) That's a five and a half-inch(!) difference from this year's roster, and that could be a conservative estimate. McGary and Smotrycz may see more time than estimated but probably not less; rosters do things like list Douglass at 6'3" and Burke at 6'1". With that conversion rate, guesses at 6'10" for McGary and 6'6" for GRIII may be an inch or so short.

That will take Michigan's effective height from –1.1 inches, good for a mid-major-ish 250th, to +4.4, which should be top ten nationally. That is whiplash-inducing. It's also pretty good company. Three of the four one seeds (all but MSU) are in the top 12 along with a two (Duke), a couple of threes (Baylor, FSU) and a four (Indiana). And… uh… Illinois.

Even if it's not a guarantee, height is strongly correlated with both offensive and defensive efficiency. This year's Michigan was about the third-best team you could put together with two guys over 6'5". That ceiling—one so harshly experienced by fellow first round upset victim Missouri—is about to lift.

Michigan's suddenly deep at places that aren't point guard. Assuming one of Robinson or Hardaway can handle some minutes at the two, they'll have two reasonable bench options for every spot on the floor except point guard. When Hardaway is broken, Michigan can put him on the bench. When he's hot they can ride him. They can effectively threaten playing time in a way that they could not last year.

Someone's going to lose out at center. The above minute breakdown at the 5 may be realistic over the course of the season, but when it comes down to crunch time they'll probably go with two guys unless severe foul trouble intervenes. That guess seems like the weakest above.

Questions:

Can anyone spot Burke? Everyone on the roster has a reasonable backup or two except Burke, whose only support is a seldom-used guy who came in as a shooting guard who can't really shoot. It was a very bad sign for Brundidge when Eso Akunne was drafted to take over point guard opportunities early this year.

I know there's a lot of time for the guy to develop but I'm not seeing it. Maybe there's a system in which a 6-foot guy who could get to the basket in high school but doesn't seem to have the handle to do it in college could be effective, but it's not this one. Add in a scary asthma incident that kept him out of a few practices and prevented him from traveling to Michigan State and his prospects of serious playing time get slimmer still.

Should we play a ton more zone? Length is commonly associated with being good at playing zone. Michigan will have lots of it next year.

Also, a quick survey of the backcourt options reveals nothing even resembling a shut-down on-ball defender unless we want to hand that job to Burke. Since Burke is going to be heavily relied on to run the offense, I'd rather not do that. Other options are Stauskas, Vogrich, and Hardaway. None of them figure to be even above-average, let alone shut-down. While Michigan figures to have a lot more shotblocking next year to cover up for that deficiency, consistently allowing penetration is a recipe for open shots and bad defense.

So… zone, whether it's a 2-3 or a resurgence of the 1-3-1, seems like something Michigan might look at. The argument against it is that you should focus on your existing system and get better at it; the football team has amply demonstrated that changing your D every year is not a recipie for great success.

Can Bielfeldt play? The plan at the beginning of the year was to redshirt and Michigan stuck with that even when Horford went down. This would be ominous except Bielfeldt had some tendinitis issues that sounded relatively severe. Also, big men develop slowly and unpredictably and getting a fifth year out of them is often a much better idea than flinging spare minutes at them when they're an overwhelmed freshman.

Bielfeldt is a wide guy with a good jumper who Beilein says is a "tremendous" rebounder and good in short spaces. This is him:

“Long and bouncy, Max is not,’’ Mathews said. “But in the right program, he could be ultra productive. Because good big men are hard to come by.

“He’s a throwback. He’s gonna bang. He’s gonna be physical. He’s gonna draw contact. He’s gonna set a hard pick. He’s gonna pop and hit an open jumper. He’s gonna be able to guard their 4, their big who is posting up back to the basket. He can get in there and guard that guy. Sometimes, 6-10, long and bouncy doesn’t guard those big, husky bodies inside.

“But Max can do that.’’

I'm not exactly sure where he fits. He's probably not big enough to play as a 5 in college and if he doesn't have a three-pointer it's going to be tough for him to contribute enough on offense to supplant Smotrycz or Robinson.

Hardaway: the usual? Please bounce back please bounce back please bounce back.

Is Nick Stauskas finally the ludicrous 45% three point shooter Beilein has been craving forever? Would it be nice, yes? I speak like Russian contemplating this. Da.

Elsewhere

UMHoops recap. M&GB says things. More Key Plays from UMHoopsBaumgardner:

Almost 10 minutes after their final games in a Michigan basketball uniform, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass emerged from the Wolverine locker room one last time — and neither one of them quite knew what to do.

Douglass, eyes puffy and red from the tears that welled inside them moments earlier, and Novak, wearing an emblematic bruise on his cheek and bump across the bridge of his nose, walked a lonely hallway inside the bowels of Bridgestone Arena to meet with the media one final time.

"I don't know," Douglass said in a somber tone. "I just didn't think this would happen today."

With that, Novak and Douglass were gone.

John Niyo:

It was the end of an era of low expectations for the Wolverines. And that's the kind of ending so many Michigan fans have been anxiously waiting for, isn't it?

Five years after John Beilein arrived to begin another tedious rebuilding effort in Ann Arbor, it's safe to say, as departing senior Zack Novak did following Friday's loss, "The foundation is set in place."

From the new-and-improved basketball facilities on campus to the stable coaching situation to a more-energized fan base, that's hard to argue now, even in a cramped postgame locker room choked with disappointment.

Yes.

Postgame transcript.

The Old Men Of Yost

The Old Men Of Yost

Submitted by Brian on March 12th, 2012 at 12:18 PM

3/09/2012 – Michigan 2, Notre Dame 1 (OT) – 22-11-4
3/10/2012 – Michigan 3, Notre Dame 1 – 23-11-4, advance to CCHA semifinals

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This weekend Michigan will make its 24th straight trip to Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA semifinals. The program hasn't recruited a kid who was alive the last time Michigan was absent for going on a decade now. The last 21 of those years, Michigan has followed up the Joe with an appearance in the NCAA tourney. Since they responded to their ugly November with a 16-3-2 tear to end the year they'll make it 22 in two weeks. The only people who remember a time when these streaks were not active are the old men in Yost not quite old enough to forget.

That is incredible consistency. Just look across the lake and find future Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Minnesota if you want to chalk it up to recruiting. Both those teams select who they want, like Michigan, and have rosters littered with NHL draft picks, like Michigan. They're both working on a tourney streak of zero. Michigan State is also in that situation. (Since Rick Comley left the roster stacked with AARP members instead of future NHLers, that's a different argument.) Those are three of college hockey's glamour programs and they have one bid between them the last three years.

A lot of the vibe around Michigan's program in recent years has focused on how the team has only turned two of those 21 bids into national championships, but that's a conversation for the flat blank day the day after your soul shrivels up when a puck goes in the wrong net and hides inside its lonely crevasse for 52 more weeks of winter. In the immediate aftermath of Michigan punching out Jeff Jackson's eighth-place, college-hockey-NIT-bound Irish and Ferris State blowing it against Bowling Green it's time to give thanks for consistency.

Notre Dame was supposed to finish first in the league this year unless Miami did; they took their great talent and legendary coach and shiny new arena and finished one game above .500. Ferris State actually won the league this year; they took on the worst team in the conference and lost. Neither will be at the Joe. Michigan will, because Michigan always is.

It would be one thing if that was because they always had some ludicrous talents on the team. In recent years this hasn't really been the case. They don't have a lights-out scorer. Their top guys in PPG tied for 94th this year. They've made a transition from firewagon hockey to a more defensive style; they coped with the total implosion of their power play. The big star last year was either a defenseman who never hits anyone or a lightning-fast Swede better known for his defense than his offense. Their big star this year is their goalie.

Michigan has transitioned into a new, monstrously tight-checking era of college hockey without missing a beat. They've all but locked down a one seed after that terrible awful vertiginous November showed us a picture hardly anyone remembers: April without Michigan hockey.

I've got a few Illinois fans on my twitter feed and their mournfulness yesterday as Selection Sunday played on without the Illini was striking as I pondered Michigan's 24 and 22-year streaks. We've been there ourselves, as Michigan's 2008 season spiraled into the dirt and Bo's bowl streak went up in flames. As the basketball program embarks on a baby streak of their own and football gets back up to speed, let's take a moment and give thanks for the unchanging excellence in Yost.

Things happen. Your goalie flames out or some guy leaves school and you're left with a guy from the club team and a mop Jon Falk said you could borrow you call "Lee Moppie" because all hockey nicknames consist of putting "—ie" at the end of someone's name. Moppie sees way too much time and gets stuck in his own end because it's a mop and you lose a bunch of games. Even Bo's bowl streak was a flimsy thing when Harbaugh went down.

It is at this point that your program lays down for a breather, and you find out that the only thing worse than the horrible deflating feeling in April is one in March or February or November. But not for us, not yet.

Highlights

It was really too bad this one wasn't on TV. It was the game of the year, no question, and up there as far as Yost all-timers go. Obviously not at the level of tourney games; other than that it's competing with Ryan Miller-era games against MSU and that BC game when Jack Johnson shot the goalie's helmet off.

Saturday:

Hunwick on his last game at Yost:

Bullets

The flag. It's above. It's fabulous. They'll have to figure out exactly when to deploy it since their current idea conflicts with the "who cares" bit during player introductions, but it is awesome. They'll figure it out. Aaron Ward paid for most of it, which is also awesome. Also, Taylor Lewan pled for the Arizona state flag—which the student section deployed when Moffatt got a penalty just to show it off—to make an appearance at Michigan Stadium this fall. 

I want more flags. All of the flags!

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That's more like it, Notre Dame goalie situation. CenterIce has a diary breaking down the Michigan goals and came away from the weekend with an impression similar to mine:

Watching the highlights I was very surprised by how the scoring played out for us. I could not see anything televised because of my location, but it was very strange to see an entire series of lucky bounces and soft goals.

Michigan had a bunch of legit scoring chances they rang off the posts (three of them in the first OT Friday); everything else was soft.

Even though Summerhays wasn't exactly awful—he did give up just over 2 GAA—most of the goals he gave up were soft-ish, none worse than the harmless dink Phil Di Giuseppe managed to slide through his five hole:

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If you let something in through the five hole at that angle from that tight, you have earned the "it's all your fault" in the aftermath.

Meanwhile, Hunwick was just about flawless. He had no hope on ND's Saturday goal, on which Jon Merrill didn't realize he had a two-on-one situation down low and went after a puckhandler emerging from the half-boards, leaving the back door wide open. The Friday goal came after a long period of Notre Dame pressure featuring several grade A stops from Hunwick; finally he could not react fast enough when ND found an open guy in the slot on a pass that came from behind the net.

Meanwhile, the all-Gongshow goalie gave up ten in a three game series against BGSU. Well done, hockey gods.

Notre Dame. Good? Bad? ND is such a confusing team. I think I was right to be very much against playing them in the second round, as they dominated large stretches of the first game and could have/should have put it away. Hunwick was ridiculous, and Michigan was much better in the OT. Michigan was much better on Saturday; even so my impression from watching ND play four times this year is that they should be easily in the tourney.

The goalie thing is a big, big problem. You could tell the body language on Saturday night was "here we go again." If they just had an average goalie I'm guessing they're well above the bubble.

Top line re-emerges. They had a little bit of a quiet spot there. That's over after Brown got the winner Friday and Wohlberg's top-quality snipes Saturday. They were dominant for stretches on the cycle, as well.

Now that Glendening and Di Giuseppe are getting some goals it seems like Michigan has two solid scoring lines for the tournament with the potential for some bonus stuff from Moffatt, a Lynch, etc.

The main problem left. The power play is just horrendous. They could not even get the zone on Friday night, and while they fixed the problem somewhat Saturday they still ended up 0/7 on the weekend. There's an obvious lack of dipsy-doo on the team that is a problem. Michigan has never in my memory played two defensemen on the PP, and I remember many years where the solution to getting the zone on the powerplay was "give it to Hensick."

This year the guy most likely to get the zone on the rush is… Mac Bennett, probably, and he does it by beating a guy as he leaves the defensive zone. When an opponent is lining four up across the blue line like ND was he doesn't have the puckhandling to make guys back off.

I don't really have any answers here. I'll just be over here massaging my temples for the next two minutes.

Sparks. : ( Scratched again and with no points in forever it's hard to make the case he should not be. I just thought that line was so close to putting in a half-dozen goals once he returned to the lineup. Oh well.

Pairwise Situation

MFan in Ohio has been ably summing up the situation on the message board. Michigan actually dropped after Friday night's action thanks to a weird confluence of factors seemingly designed to play up the PWR's flaws: a bunch of not very good teams won or lost to fall above or below the .500 RPI mark that makes teams a TUC. They did this in just the right fashion for Cornell's TUC record to be momentarily very good, and Cornell took its comparison from Michigan based on that and the 3-4 games they've played against common opponents. Cornell is almost 300 points back in RPI.

Order was restored on Saturday, and with just one weekend left you can run scenarios out the wazoo. The worst-case chalk scenario (all higher seeds win except M going 0-2 at the Joe) still sees Michigan finish second; the worst-case-period scenario (UMD, BU, Miami, and Cornell win conference tourneys) sees Michigan finish in a three way tie for fifth. If Michigan beats BG in the semi they'll finish in a tie for third.

Upshot: Michigan has to both blow it as hard as possible and have every opponent within striking distance do as well as they can to lose the top seed.

As far as draw goes, I have no idea. One set of results sees Michigan drawing #4 seed Cornell in the first round; others have Cornell a strong two. The PWR is a jittery thing.

It does seem like Michigan has a solid shot at getting another Atlantic Hockey champ despite not being the #1 overall seed. For that to happen, the following must transpire:

  • Two CCHA teams must be one seeds
  • Two CCHA teams must be four seeds
  • Michigan must be the highest-ranked CCHA team

In that case the committee has no choice but to match the CCHA teams up against the other folks and hand the not-very-good AH champ to Michigan. Your wicked hangover from that one year Michigan played Air Force suggests this may not be the absolute best thing in the world, but… well, yeah.

That is likely to happen if Miami beats Michigan Saturday. It's a consolation prize.

As far as the league goes: Miami, Michigan, and Ferris are solidly in. Ferris and their all-world goalie gave up a billion goals to BGSU and ended up not making the Joe; they're a solid two seed. Western Michigan and State are on the bubble. Both are in unless there is a bid stolen.

One will make it unless two bids are stolen this weekend; that team will be State unless WMU wins the CCHA. In that case State can be knocked out with a single stolen bid.

Banner Day

Banner Day

Submitted by Brian on March 5th, 2012 at 12:25 PM

3/3/2012 – Michigan 71, Penn State 65 – 23-8, 13-5 Big Ten
3/3/2012 – Michigan State 70, Ohio State 72 – both teams finish 13-5 in conference

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A few days ago Jalen Rose did color for the Illinois game. Before he did so he took the opportunity to say "I bleed maize and blue" and that he wants the Fab Five's banners back up in 2013, when the NCAA-mandated dissociation with that era ends. I get why. From his perspective, those banners symbolize a fun time he had when he was young and some baggy pants and black socks took the nation by storm.

I don't want those banners back up. Even if you believe that Michigan got screwed over by the NCAA, that Ed Martin had tickets a bunch of different places, etc., the banners still mean not only that Michigan won some games in March 20 years ago but that they didn't win any for a long time after that. Those banners are not only about the four unsullied members of the Fab Five and the enigma that is Chris Webber but Taylor and Traylor and Bullock and what those teams represented.

Not to pick on a guy with obvious problems, but this is the quickest way to get that across:

dommanic-ingerson-naked

Dom Ingerson coming out of a lake naked, about to be arrested. That's where the Fab Five era ended.

Even if it's thanks largely to things out of their control, that's a fact. Steve Fisher had tenuous control over the Fab Five. He was see-no-evil about Ed Martin, and that attitude eventually turned malignant. This had obvious off-court effects, but even worse than the flesh wound issued by the NCAA years after the fact was the way Fisher's abdication showed up on the court. Even as they were playing, I hated them. They invented being Terrelle Pryor. When we talk about how easy it is to root for Michigan's teams these days, the unstated subtext is always thank God they're nothing like Maurice Taylor.

Yes yes: socioeconomic something something, The Wire, Bomani Jones and Jason Whitlock, etc. Doesn't change the fact that Denard Robinson is a joy and Taylor sulked around the court putting in just enough effort to get a B- while taking a bunch of money from a guy he'd been told to stay away from, then rolled his SUV with Mateen Cleaves in it.

While I feel bad for Jalen Rose in the limited way a civilian can feel bad for a famous multimillionaire former NBA star, those banners are the seed of a poisonous tree. I'd rather leave it in the past. I'd rather never think about Maurice Taylor again.

------------------------------------

I don't think we have to worry about this one coming down. John Beilein heads the ethics committee; when he's taped giving a pregame speech he invariably comes off like a high school chemistry teacher who got lost on his way to work and would rather be talking about pipettes but is making a go of this whole basketball-coaching business.

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You may remember me from such characters as Bryan Cranston in the Breaking Bad pilot

Michigan's players run the gamut from lightly recruited to literally un-recruited. Zack Novak once knew 62 digits of pi. Michigan yoinked its starters away from Harvard, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Xavier, and nobody.* If someone has done something outside of the NCAA guidelines to assemble this team they have chosen poorly and are aging into dust as we speak.

When I wrote the Webber piece linked above I noted that it was a little stomach-churning that Michigan's reaction to the Martin scandal was to go from a basketball team Ice Cube thought was cool to Opie In The Sky With Diamonds:

I don't understand Jalen Rose, don't understand Webber, don't understand the lady in the gas station on the South Side of Chicago I asked directions of who responded "I don't know about any damn directions." I do understand the visceral thrill of those bald heads and black socks, but only vicariously, like a kid from Troy buying an NWA cassette. I can't say why I thought Jim Nantz's obviously racist distaste for the Fab Five was obviously racist, but I had a Nantz-like reaction to that lady in Chicago. I understand why my fiancée continually mishears Duke's mascot as the "white devils" and simultaneously have less than zero sympathy for Robert Traylor and would want to punch him in the face if I ever met him and he was tied to a rock and he had no idea who I was and I could definitely run away before he got loose.

Webber's redemption never happened with him or Taylor or Bullock, and while Bullock was from some suburb in Maryland and cannot be redeemed—seriously, he can die in a fire for all I care—maybe if Chris Webber said something brutally honest it would help me be less confused and sad about Michigan basketball in the 90s, and maybe a bunch of other things of greater significance.

It bothers me that Michigan's response to the NCAA scandal was to go from culturally black enough to have Ice Cube in your documentary to Duke Lite, but goddammit I also wanted some directions.

This remains true but is of limited application outside of moody pieces about things better left buried.

What yesterday did is bury that, permanently. I doubt I'm ever going to grapple with what the Fab Five means to Michigan's program again. It's not a looming anchor or propellant or injustice or cautionary tale anymore. It's not really anything. It's not relevant, finally finally finally. It took 20 years, a Big Ten championship, and Michigan's best recruiting class since the Fab Five to do it but now it's in the past.

This program has been arriving for just over a year now. For months I've had to tamp down the "what about next year!" urge many of us feel when surveying the roster and recruiting class. The great thing is: it arrived before Novak and Douglass aged out. Instead of trying to keep themselves together on the radio like David Merritt or not having to but not being out there like CJ Lee, Novak and Douglass will come back next year for a banner-raising ceremony. They'll watch a really good basketball team play afterwards, and they'll know that whenever anyone looks up in the Crisler rafters they'll be there even if their name isn't.

This program is not going away, and the culture is set. This one is not going to end up with a naked guy coming out of a lake. With all due respect to Jalen Rose, that's where the focus should be. This is Michigan: pi-memorizing, expectation-exceeding, Opie-headed, three-bombing, AP-chemistry-teacher basketball. Oh, and champions.

Champions.

*[Respectively: Douglass, Burke, Hardaway, Morgan, Novak.]

Media

The official site put together a react video that is up there amongst the best items in their brief history doing this*:

I think Vogrich is exclaiming "that's what I'd doooooooo" as Buford hits his ridiculous game winner. Zack Novak's slo-mo abs are for you, ladies. ESPN highlights:

*["Louie Caporusso: Love Expert" is still #1 in my book.]

Bullets

Oh, right, the game. It was mostly notable for a couple of frustrating Penn State surges after Michigan pushed out to near-20 point leads. The first one was just one of those things, the second a frustrating combination of pity refereeing (a real phenomenon) and Michigan getting lax.

If there's any concern to be pulled from the game it's the unexpected softness of Michigan's generally quality D against a team that is terrible offensively. Penn State got to the basket far too often for a team of their stature. Some of that is Smotrycz, who is still uncomfortable as a 5. Some of that was Morgan not playing up to his usual standard. It's likely those issues get worked out before the Big Ten Tourney.

Shooting shootists alert. Dakich brought this up every time Smotrycz or Hardaway hit a shot, and he's right: if Smotrycz and Hardaway are hitting shots, look out. The two combined to hit 6 of 10 from three. If that's happening and Burke is nailing those mid-range shots off the hedge, Michigan will cruise by anyone they can D up.

Unfortunately, a couple games can't erase the a conference-schedule long slump. Hardaway's stretch of efficient play is now six games long, though. At some point it will cross over into expectation. (Until he misses a couple to start the game.)

Meanwhile, Douglass. Douglass had nine points on five shots, six assists, just one turnover, and zero fouls despite having a plurality of the Tim Frazier duty. He's almost a second point guard on the floor.

I've said this before but Douglass's improvement this year is a lot like Will Heininger's: it gives you a ton of faith in Michigan's player development. If Lavall Jordan can just tighten up Hardaway's handle a little bit…

The tournament. Michigan plays the Iowa-Northwestern winner at 6:30 Friday; if they win they'll draw either Purdue, Nebraska, or Ohio State in the semis. Full bracket from Inside The Hall:

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U MAD, BRAH? Derrick Nix:

"It's tough, even though we're the Big Ten champs. It really means nothing because we had to share it with two other teams."

The worst part about sharing?

"We had to share it with our little nephews, and that sucks. So now they're happy because we lost. We got to just try to win this Big Ten tournament."

The top teams went 1-1 against each other and Michigan's one-plays were Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska.

Adventures in poor timing. This is the saddest banner unfurling ever:

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Even if they lost they're completely crushed they shared the title with Michigan. Sparty gonna Spart.

Elsewhere

This RCMB thread posts the M celebration video; OP says he "wants to punch the nearest SCummer" but is named "Dong Forest," which is a dead giveaway. Troll on, troller. Sparty in a nutshell: "I'd rather o$u win the title outright than um get to share it."

HSR suggests a banner design:

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I already have my request in for bleeding, but if that doesn't take I'd actually like to see the sign have a listing of  the seniors on the team with it.

Quotes and whatnot from UMHoops. Burke got in a good Yogi Berra-ism:

On watching the final seconds of the game: “It’s indescribable. As soon as he shot it, the ball was in the air. It was silent the whole time the ball was in the air. Before he inbounded the ball, they had showed Buford, and he had a look in his eye, and it just looked like he was going to take this last shot and he was going to hit it. Once he got the ball, went left and shot it, Appling played great D. Once it went in, everybody just flooded the hallway, jumping up and down. My biggest fear was that they were going to hit a half court shot or something, but once they missed that, it was great.”

Beilein:

On the emotion of winning a Big Ten title: “The most rewarding part of what just happened is watching our young men’s faces. When you’ve coached this long, and our staff knows this, it’s not about the W’s. It’s about the journey. And while it’s not the end of the journey, it’s certainly a highlight in this year’s journey, and for some guys a four-year journey.”Latest bracketology still has M on the three-line in Nashville… with Vandy a potential second round matchup. Protected seeds, Lunardi?

He continued, "now if you'll open your textbooks to chapter eight we can start talking about covalent bonds."

The Daily datelines its piece "BUFFALO WILD WINGS." NYT:

“I never could have imagined this when I came here,” the senior guard Zack Novak said. “It’s like Christmas every day, having a great place to practice and play, all the fan support, and we’re working hard and getting the wins.

“We’ve all had our hearts broken here, so we really appreciate things we’re getting and how they’re coming to us. It’s setting us up for even bigger successes now and in the future.”

Baumgardner is all like "a banner is a banner is a banner." Agreed.

Just In Time For The Showcase Showdown

Just In Time For The Showcase Showdown

Submitted by Brian on March 2nd, 2012 at 11:48 AM

3/1/2012 – Michigan 72, Illinois 61 – 22-8, 12-5 Big Ten

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UMHoops/Dustin Johnston

If you were in a really, really good mood in June and thought of Tim Hardaway Jr's sophomore season, you probably envisioned him tossing in three-pointers like he's casually skipping stones across Lake Michigan, rebounding like he's a bouncy Zack Novak, and maybe developing enough of a handle to attack the rim when people close him out hard.

Instead you got… not that. Instead you got every preview of every Michigan game having a section on Hardaway that is the verbal equivalent of:

You got not that until yesterday, when Hardaway flung in 25 points on 7 shots and secured an array of bouncy, mansome rebounds en route to holding Illinois to six offensive rebounds in 31 opportunities. Oh, and Michigan won a road game by double digits. This is what you envisioned last summer when you closed your eyes long enough for Denard Robison-related daydreaming to pass.

That didn't happen so much but Trey Burke showed up on a mission to discredit scouting services and picked up most of the slack there, so that was okay. Michigan muddled through to its best record in a long, long time. Hardaway lingered, though, a hovering sad inexplicable what-if and source of indigestion whenever he rose up for a three-pointer that had a 26% chance of going in.

We spent the season waiting, mostly winning but mostly frustrated. Every flash of effectiveness was dissected for repeatability; every clanged shot was a re-descent into depression. The last time this team played Illinois, Hardaway had an efficient game that fluttered hopes:

When Tim Hardaway Jr. got an open-ish look from three early, he passed it up. He faked, got past the closeout, and took an open look from the elbow. He missed. He got another midrange jumper a minute later, which he missed. A minute after that he got an open look from three, and the building kind of moaned.

It was a complex moan. It acknowledged the fact that this was a very good shot and that if you are Tim Hardaway Jr. and you're not going to take this shot you probably shouldn't be on the floor at all and while there may be some basketball teams who could afford to bench Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan is emphatically not one of them. It also loathed everything about the preceding sentence because none of it meant Hardaway was at all likely to make it. It was a richly subtextual moan. Given enough time and processing power, Ken Pomeroy could calculate Hardaway's shooting percentage from it. He would find it is not high at all.

Hardaway made it anyway. The building thought maybe basketball would bring it flowers.

He then proceeded to… well, defy easy classification. Tim Hardaway Jr, this is a five game stretch in your sophomore year:

Opponent Min 2PM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB REB ASSIST TO PTS
Illinois 30 3/6 2/3 3/5 1 3 3 2 15
OSU 38 2/3 2/2 3/5 0 3 0 4 13
@ Northwestern 38 2/3 2/9 4/10 2 5 1 1 14
Purdue 34 5/7 0/6 0/0 1 6 1 4 10
@ Illinois 38 2/3 4/4 9/10 0 11 1 3 25
AVERAGES 35.6 55% 42% 66%         15.4

There's some frustrating wobble in there what with the 0-fer from three against Purdue and the Ben Wallace free throw shooting against Northwestern. There is also the 25-points-on-7 shots outing last night, two other extremely efficient games, an obvious uptick in turnovers, Hardaway's second double-double of the year, and the same 42% shooting from deep that carried Michigan to a shock tourney bid last year.

This chart reminds me of the NCAA hockey tournament. IE: it terrifies. If Hardaway is off, Michigan is capable of losing to anyone in the tourney, literally. The Ben Wallace FT game saw them go to overtime with Northwestern, currently the last team in on many brackets. If he is on, daggers rain from the sky and Michigan can take down just about anyone.

Michigan has no choice but to deal with this. They have one and a half backups and the fourth-shortest bench in the country. If Hardaway isn't producing, there's nowhere to turn. We've got little to go on either way. As Hardaway bounces up from a pretty horrendous year he settles back into a funk for back to back games, then surges.

Riding him is being at sea in a storm. When he rises up for his first-three pointer in Columbus or Pittsburgh or Nashville against an autobid from a small conference, every Michigan fan from the eight-year-old who thinks Trey Burke is the greatest point guard in history to John Beilein himself will watch the flight of the ball, thinking please, please, please.

Bullets

Burke + Hardaway == um. This will not be an original thought, but finally finally finally Michigan got good, efficient performances from Burke and Hardaway at the same time. No one else did much offensively but it did not matter because the top guys had an 80% eFG% and were 10 of 10 from the line even before Illinois started fouling tactically late.

That is going to be tough to beat; that is far from guaranteed. Who would have thought Anthony Wright would be the guy holding Michigan in against Blake Griffin a few years back?

Just Burke. Very, very smooth last night, pushing the ball when it needed to be pushed and ruthlessly punishing high-screen switches with easy step-up three-pointers. Long term that's his future—he won't get better than last night but will have more nights like that. Exception: as he learns the intricacies of the Beilein offense he'll increase his assist rate and maybe edge up his two-point shooting because fewer of his attempts will be heaves late in the shot clock.

Smotrycz. He managed to foul out in 14 minutes and has a lot of people down on his potential contributions next year. Two things:

  • Big men develop slowly and unpredictably.
  • Smotrycz is badly miscast as a center and will benefit more than anyone else on the roster from the additions of McGary, Horford, and Bielfeldt to the lineup… unless Bielfeldt turns into a Draymond Green-style four, in which case he's screwed. Chances of that next year are low.

Next year he should be able to take Novak's role in the offense and on defense, something he's better suited for. He may be a bad matchup in certain situations and get lifted, but—holy pants—next year Michigan will be able to do that by inserting GRIII, McGary, or Bielfeldt at the four. He will not have to take on Adreian Payne, Jared Sullinger or Meyers Leonard next year, and thank God for that.

Jalen Rose is one divisive guy. I was not a fan of his color commentary last night and tweeted something out about it. In the next ten minutes that tweet received an avalanche of support, criticism, and hur hur jokes about racism. Say what you want about Rose, but he moves the needle.

Of course, the thing I say about Rose is that he moves my needle in the wrong direction. The contrast between Rose and Bardo was obvious: Bardo was a pro; Rose sounded like he'd won a fan contest to call a game.

It wasn't all bad. Rose consistently made an excellent point about players trying too hard to take charges or block shots when they should just be annoying presences to contest shots, and he backed it up every time he should have. I bet he's a lot better when he's not covering a Michigan game.

Injuries. Smotrycz and Morgan were both dinged but it doesn't sound like anything serious:

"I hope they're all right," Beilein said. "Both of them had little stingers, (Morgan) in the shoulder and (Smotrycz) to his hip.

Losing either one would obviously be a disaster sans Horford.

Elsewhere

Photos from UMHoops and AA.com. UMHoops recap. Baumgardner recap. Burke just set the Michigan freshman record for assists. Daily on Hardaway doing work:

“Having a winter break right now, Tim has used every bit of it,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “He's been in the gym like crazy. Just looking at his shot, we've been watching the video tape, seeing any different type of quirks that maybe he could work out. He's such a student of the game, so he's really worked at it.”

Holdin' the Rope:

I'm not sure what it is about playing Illinois, but it has for whatever reason brought out the very best in THJ this season. He was just about as efficient as you can possibly be, and his shot was crisp, clean, and confident. Bacari Alexander will now be given the task of using whatever psychological tropes he can muster to convince THJ that they are playing Illinois before every game from here on out. John Gasaway says:

It's hard to disagree. This Michigan team has, by varying combinations of Trey Burke, Beilein sorcery, TRUE GRIT, and Bacari Alexander motivational ploys, manufactured a 22-8 record with THJ struggling for long, bleak stretches of conference play. Imagine, oh imagine, what this team can accomplish with a THJ circa the end of last season added to the fold.

A Lion Eye is depressed; A Lion Eye is always depressed. A Lion Eye reminds me of me two years ago.

Hardaway is interviewed at Grantland:

Your dad was an NBA All-Star. Did you grow up playing against him? At what age could you beat him?

Yeah, when I was a kid we played a seven-game series every Saturday. I used to go to open gym to play with my friends and teammates, and I'd get there 30 to 45 minutes early so I could play one-on-one against my dad. When I reached ninth grade, I was finally able to beat him. He'd win the seven-game series, mostly, but I knew if I got two or three wins I could tell everybody that I'd beat my dad one-on-one. That's when I knew he was done.

But even when I started beating him regularly, he wasn't mad at all. He'd still teach me things I could get better at. To this day, I go up to him and ask him for advice about what I need to work on, and he always does a great job helping me out. That's not to say there wasn't a lot of trash talking when we played one-on-one.

What kind of trash talk, specifically?

I can't say. I can't say!

Asked whether this is his last year at Michigan, he says "I'm not sure" and "I can tell you I don't plan on leaving." I'm guessing he's around for at least another year since he's probably not a first-rounder after this business.

The NYT has an interesting article up on the variations between basketballs making life difficult on road teams. Bo Ryan is specified as a guy who uses a weird ball that causes problems for visitors; this made me think of a recent Daily article on Michigan's odd choice of ball:

“I just have a long association with The Rock,” he said. “I used it way back to LeMoyne and also at the Division-I level. I’ve used The Rock, I think, all the time. They have a good product.”

Though many teams choose to stick with their school’s sponsor for their choice of ball, Michigan passed over Adidas in favor of The Rock — a brand from Anaconda Sports.

“It feels very much like the Wilson, which we use in the NCAA Tournament,” Beilein said. “That’s why I like it.”

In fact, the NYT article seems like an rehash of the Daily article what with its frequent referencing of Wisconsin's unusual deployment of Sterling basketballs and focus on the home/road effects. Zinger not contained by NYT for obvious reasons incoming:

But if Michigan fans are worried about the Wolverines’ play without The Rock in the postseason, there is good news. On Dec. 10, Michigan put up a season-high 90 points in a victory over Oakland at the Palace at Auburn Hills.

The ball? Wilson. The same brand used for March Madness.

Hardaway Hardaway Hardaway Hardaway.

Or is that "Hawafty"?

image

Paywall ho!

A Gentle Suggestion For The Benefit Of The Revolution

A Gentle Suggestion For The Benefit Of The Revolution

Submitted by Brian on February 22nd, 2012 at 12:33 PM

2/21/2012 – Michigan 67, Northwestern 55 (OT) – 21-7, 11-4 Big Ten

Michigan-67-Northwestern-55-5-597x398[1]jordan-morgan-northwestern

LEFT: A fateful moment in which our brave comrade fouled the opponent's forearm in the eyes of corrupt capitalist lackeys. RIGHT: The imperialists were forced into illegal measures in their failed attempts to deal with Comrade Morgan.

Dustin Johnston/UMHoops; AnnArbor.com

Let the reign of Beilein be long and glorious. He is our sun and star and moons. He has brought basketball back to Ann Arbor long after we had ceded our land to the imperialists of East Lansing and set about hoping we would not be Northwestern forever. The bubble is banished and all loyal Wolverines are required to have Mao-style paintings of not one but two Dear Leaders. This is right and just.

But we have to talk about something, Oh Great Back Cut of Heaven. That thing is what to do when Michigan's glorious but thin frontcourt, sabotaged by foreigners who broke Comrade Horford's foot—we have executed the traitors or at least given people who probably know the traitors harsh looks—is brought low by the machinations of imperialist pig-dogs with whistles.

Oh Thousand Shining Arcs From Behind The Line, your response in the Northwestern game was to bench Comrades Morgan and Smotrycz in favor of Comrades McLimans and Christian. They are a good loyalists who contribute all they can to the cause. Unfortunately for the Glorious Revolution, that is zero shot attempts and zero rebounds in fourteen minutes. "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need" suggests that Comrades McLimans and Christian are most needed in the towel-waving collectives of Ukraine, where they can fan our team to greatness.

When they are placed on the court, starvation ensues. Michigan led 11-3 when McLimans entered the game; Northwestern led 31-24 by halftime, when Comrades Morgan and Smotrycz returned to the floor. In that span of time, Northwestern had six offensive rebounds in eight opportunities*. In the other 31 minutes they had five in 24. Northwestern scored more points in the fourteen minutes without Morgan and Smotrycz (28) than they did in the other thirty-one(27).

Upon their return Morgan and Smotrycz promptly led a glorious charge into a lead foreordained by your divinity, Great Leveler. Unfortunately, rebel conspiracy sabotaged the bridge between Tim Hardaway Jr. and free throw makes, forcing the revolution into overtime. The people rose up and slew their purple oppressors with a thousand swords, as you decreed would always be the case.

Some of our less faithful comrades may have momentarily lost confidence, however. While the will of the people can never be defeated, it should be pointed out that basketball teams can and putting in comrades who are not very good at basketball could lead to a (temporary, meaningless) setback in Michigan's five-year plan.

When comrades Morgan and Smotrycz returned it took 12 minutes for one of them to pick up a third foul. If they were allowed to continue playing in the first half it is true they would be in danger of fouling out early. But what would the consequences be in that situation? In the worst vaguely plausible scenario, both Morgan and Smotrycz foul out five or six minutes into the second half, forcing the Striped Orange Sun to… play McLimans and Christian for 14 minutes. The wisdom of the Shining Beacon of Halftime Adjustments is unquestioned, but in this one situation it seems like it is not infinite.

Earlier in the year, a similar substitution pattern saw Comrade Burke confined to the bench for a long stretch against Iowa. Burke left with Michigan down four and returned with them down twelve. Nefarious play by oppressors made Michigan play poorly throughout, so this did not make an impact on the outcome, but it didn't help matters much.

I submit that with Burke averaging 1.8 fouls per 40 minutes at the time of his transgression and six additional calls available to a two-headed center playing a team without any size, it would benefit Michigan greatly to roll the dice on players in foul trouble instead of willingly accepting the worst-case scenario of doing so. Oh sun and moon and stars.

*[It was actually 7 of 9 but one was a OREB credited to Northwestern's team after McLimans blocked a shot out of bounds. I don't think that shows up on the box score I'm using.]

Media

Photos from AnnArbor.com and UMHoops. This one demonstrates Burke's powers of telekinesis:

Michigan-67-Northwestern-55-6-400x600[1]

Dustin Johnston

Highlights from BTN and mgovideo:

Bullets that get dust on them

Defense! Zounds. UMHoops says Michigan had Morgan and/or Smotrycz for 40 possessions. On those possessions Northwestern scored 27 points, or 0.68 points per possession. That's outstanding. Northwestern has the country's 15th-best offense and the league's fourth-best; when Michigan wasn't going to the deep bench because of the aforementioned rigidity they annihilated the Wildcats.

The primary way they did this was by switching everything. IIRC there was a single breakdown for an open layup in the first half, then nothing the rest of the game. Everything else was contested. John Shurna was 2 of 5 from three and 4 of 11 from two with a couple of those twos ridiculous circus things; after the game Bill Carmody kind of called out his leading scorer for passivity:

"It just seemed the whole game that he was reluctant to do anything," Carmody said. "He had some pretty good looks and he passed them up to go to the next thing. It was a game he had to take over."

Northwestern never tried to punish Michigan for switching players as small as Trey Burke onto Shurna. That's either blind luck or great scouting.

Threes? Michigan hit 37% on 38 threes for 1.1 points per attempt. Are we happy with that? I have no idea. On the one hand, a lot of those were wide open when opponents sagged off Burke or left a corner three open in the 1-3-1. On the other hand, 38 threes. I'm guessing we would have had a much different opinion than confusion if Burke and Hardaway didn't put down back-to-back triples after Michigan found itself down four late. Those makes opened the door for the rat-tat-tat at the beginning of overtime. Before that the numbers were ugly.

1.1 points is not great. It sounds good as a shooting percentage but you have to take into account that way more twos than threes end up getting erased in favor of free throws. On the other hand, being willing to launch from deep really cut down on Michigan's turnovers (six to an uncharacteristic 14 for Northwestern) and would have led to some additional possessions via Morgan offensive rebounds if the refs hadn't gone from suck to blow in the second half. In the end, it worked. Worked authoritatively when Morgan/Smotrycz were in.

1-3-1 response. When Michigan's 1-3-1 was getting shredded early in the disappointing Harris/Sims post-tourney year it seemed like opponents were attacking it diagonally and getting to the basket. Michigan was hesitant to put the ball on the floor at all and ended up shooting over it on a large majority of possessions. When they did dump it in low, Morgan had a couple opportunities but didn't go up strong, as they say, and we got the obligatory missed bunny or two*. I wonder if Northwestern just runs the 1-3-1 a lot better than Michigan ever has in the Beilein era.

*[This should be less of a problem with McGary. When people are asking Morgan to go up strong they believe he can dunk a ball from a standing start under the basket, which I don't think he can. This should be no problem for McGary as long as he can catch cleanly—always an issue with big men.]

Hardaway. Yerg. Back to the salt mines: 2 of 9 from three, 4 of 10 from the line. Two of three from two… against a team that has no shot blocking. I don't think those distributions are going to get fixed this year; we can only hope the shots go down when Michigan really needs them to.

Elsewhere

Rodger Sherman is not dead:

How. in the HELL. do we lose two games to the same ranked team in overtime? HOW? Why does this happen? THIS IS JUST THE WORST.

Northwestern has now played about 8000 close games this season and lost all of them. Here are my questions, and I am furious about each and every one.

You get the ball witha bout 50 seconds and a full shot clock. Instead of opting to go two-for-one and take the last shot, which ANYBODY WITH ANY SORT OF BASKETBALL SENSE IN THE WORLD would have done, Northwestern held for 35 seconds and had a possession end with a JerShon Cobb three, a shot which is about as efficient as repeatedly stabbing yourself in the face. YOU DON'T WANT TO PLAY ANOTHER FIVE MINUTES AGAINST A RANKED TEAM WITH ALL THE MOMENTUM. YOU WANT TO END THE GAME IN REGULATION. YOU HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF BEATING A BETTER TEAM IN THREE POSSESSIONS (TWO OF WHICH ARE YOURS) THAN FIVE MORE MINUTES. This is inexplicable.

We will root for Northwestern from here on out. We have hurt them more than they deserve. AnnArbor.com on Vogrich:

"He's been a big part of this little surge we're having right now," Michigan coach John Beilein said of Vogrich. "You've seen all year long that we've struggled with our bench play.

"And we need that. He's done a good job."

During Michigan's current four-game winning streak, Vogrich has gone 9-for-13 from 3-point range, providing a spark off the bench that hasn't been there for most of the season.

Known as a 3-point specialist, Vogrich entered the Nebraska game on Feb. 8 shooting just 21.2 percent from behind the arc. But thanks to his recent hot streak, he's jumped up to a more respectable 33.3 percent on the year.

UMHoops recap.

Plinko Preview

Plinko Preview

Submitted by Brian on February 20th, 2012 at 4:52 PM

2/17/2012 – Michigan 4, Northern Michigan 1 – 19-10-4, 13-8-4 Gongshow
2/18/2012 – Michigan 3, Northern Michigan 2 (OT) – 20-10-4, 14-8-4 Gongshow

senior-night-hockey

Too many of these flags without a banner
AnnArbor.com

Inevitably, Michigan's come down a bit from its dominating post-Merrill streak. After a month of games rarely competitive enough to require the opposition goalie to be pulled, Michigan's won two of the last four in overtime. A third they lost; the fourth was a one-goal game with five minutes to go before a power play goal gave Michigan room to breathe.

While they remain one of the hottest teams in the country—probably still the hottest team—it's just that… man, they are mortal. Very much so. Saturday confirmed that. Watching Mac Bennett cough up an unbelievable turnover gets that point halfway home; cowering after Jon Freakin' Merrill got ostentatiously walked for a goal drives it the rest of the way. And don't get me started on the third pairing.

It is easy to construct ways in which Michigan gets beaten in the tourney. Maybe it's better to know that going in, to not be regarding the NCAA tournament as anything other than sport's most terrifying random number generator, but dammit I've been watching Michigan play hockey for 13 years and every year my soul has ended up sobbing on the floor of a Steak 'n' Shake bathroom. I don't like reminders of the ways in which these things happen.

I'm getting plenty of those of late. Both overtime winners were plinko specials. A puck slides under a Michigan State defenseman despite that guy dropping to one knee and Michigan's fourth line sweeps one in from point blank range. Northern throws a puck up the boards that just happens to hit Glendening in the tape and he flings it cross-ice to Treais, who does what Treais does and fires a laser-guided missile into the net.

It's great to get wins like that, sure. You are either unfamiliar with college hockey or a great dirty liar if it doesn't make you nervous, though. In April this team is going to be going up against team after team like they have in the second half of the season. They'll never meet last year's North Dakota. There is no last year's North Dakota. This means however they lose, if they lose, will be brutal.

Michigan's looking good for a one seed but we've seen puck after puck that cares nothing for expectation and craves only chaos, and it's getting to be that time of year. Prepare the antacid and whiskey: playoff hockey is around the corner.

-----------------------------

It's impossible to think things like the above and look at Michigan's RPI chart within minutes of each other without saying a little prayer of thanks that this…

image

…was not the season*. But now we're over it and have been talking about what Michigan needs to be a one seed for two months. Michigan has been as close to a dominant team as you can be for a long time now, and instead of being grateful to extend the tourney streak I'm steeling myself for the usual combination of anticipation and dread that accompanies single elimination hockey.

This is probably why I advised everyone to savor the final few games of basketball season. That team can be happy with being there. Hockey can't even if the above stretch threatened the tourney streak. Hockey has become a ghost-ridden thing over the past dozen years. Once recovery is in the rear view the tournament looms ahead, silent, red-haired, and wild-eyed. Loki is coming, and he has been kind recently. Be afraid.

*[How bizarre is that Ferris State sweep in retrospect? Ferris is going to win the league bar a sweep by Western and is in pretty good shape for a one-seed itself. Michigan destroyed them in the midst of their horrendous stretch.]

Highlights

Friday:

Saturday:

The latter does a great job of emphasizing how frequently Pateryn was annihilating various Wildcats.

HT: Michigan Hockey Net.

Pairwise

Michigan moved up to second on the weekend but still loses comparisons with two teams, BC and UMD. Thanks to Michigan's GLI win over the Eagles, passing BC is a simple matter of finishing ahead of them in RPI. Any other scenario that sees Michigan take the comparison also has M ahead in RPI, so that's easy enough.

UMD is a tougher, more annoying matter. They're getting significantly beat in RPI but win both COP (thanks to M's split against Western) and TUC. They're about a game in front there despite the RPI gap. Michigan will need them to limp down the stretch.

UMD is the only comparison it looks like Michigan can lose based on RPI right now thanks to BU's loss to BC in the Beanpot. That evened Michigan's COP with BU and there's nothing the Bulldogs can do about that except make it worse until the playoffs.

Playing BG is good and bad. They should be easy to beat but they provide no upside. A sweep barely budges Michigan's RPI; a split will see them drop.

Upshot for the people who don't care about the details: Michigan should finish at most one spot below their RPI ranking, which is currently second but could drop to fifth or sixth if they don't play well. If they take care of BGSU this weekend they will probably get a one seed as long as they reach and go 1-1 at the Joe. You hate Duluth and want them to die.

BONUS: Remember how I said Northern was on the bubble despite being ninth last week? At 16th they'd be out of the tournament if it started today. Do not look at bracketology columns. They are more pointless than college hockey polls.

Bullets That Could Go Anywhere

glendening-northern-michigan

AnnArbor.com

Revisiting Luke Glendening. After Glendening had a bad weekend in which he seemed at least partially responsible for three separate Notre Dame goals, I pointed out that he'd been dragging in +/- terms and scoring and that he'd have been exiled to the fourth line if he wasn't the captain.

This had the same effect as painting 1,181 across your hairless chest might. Since then he's had points in 5 of 6 games and has a 1-6-7 line as the second line has scored every night. Yeah, he's benefiting from AJ Treais's insane run of top shelf snipes, but he's getting Treais the puck in situations where he can unleash his shot. See: OT winner last night.

I got AJ Treais all wrong. I called him a less dynamic TJ Hensick, but this is not right. Right now he's a less dynamic Mike Cammalleri. Cammalleri is the magic midget with the most lethal shot in MGoMemory, and Treais is a threat to water bottles all over the Gongshow at the moment.

Wait… what? A quick glimpse at Michigan's stats shows Lee Moffie at the top of the scoring charts with 6-23-29. That is a lot of points. He, too, has been on a mighty run the last three weekends, scoring three goals and assisting on six others. I say Michigan shortens its bench considerably in the playoffs and rides their top two pairings extensively.

Speaking of… Michigan tried to mitigate the issues with their third pairing by breaking Merrill and Moffie apart so that there was always at least one guy Red trusts on the ice at all times. This did not go so well. Chiasson had a couple of brutal turnovers, Merrill made some plays in his defensive zone that clearly indicated he had no faith in the freshman, and pairing Moffie with Serville was asking to die along the boards. Michigan eventually went back to their earlier plan and now seem stuck with it.

This seems like a situation where Michigan should go full Krug with their top four guys, no?

This can backfire. I remember a certain game against Maine back in the day—Comrie's last game, so 2000—during which Michigan rode five defenseman until the fifth got injured. They had only four and Bob Gassoff*—and by the end of that game Mike Komisarek could barely move. After Comrie got a half-breakaway and converted five-hole, Maine got Michigan stuck in their own zone and wore them down in the third period. The goals that followed felt inevitable.

So you have to get some shifts for the third pairing guys in, but offensive zone faceoffs only against guh opponents only, please.

*[Bob Gassoff is now a Navy Seal and could probably rip my head off with two fingers. So it is with some trepidation that I reveal that as a student I once cried out "WHY EVEN GIVE HIM A STICK?" when Red iced Gassoff at some point that year. He was a guy with no discernible skill except fighting people, which is discouraged. If you think this year's defense is frighteningly thin you have no idea. Just no idea at all.]

Third line. Still bupkis. They'll get something against BG, right? I mean, they have to one of these days.

Elsewhere

CenterIce breaks down Michigan's goals. The Deblois semi-break:

I predicted that Jon Merrill would have a bounce back series after last weekends MSU fiasco. The thing that has always separated Merrill from others is his hockey I.Q. You either have it or you don't, things like this can't not be taught.

This play starts out as a regular clear for the Wildcats, nothing special just a puck sent out of the zone.

Head up the whole way Merrill gets the puck from Moffie and finds Deblois cutting through the middle.

The Northerners are all kinds of confused, obviously since the blueliner has closed his legs like he's in shot blocking position.

As you can see they are caught way out of position.

The only play left for NMU is to go for the hook, bring him down and try your luck on the PK. Deblois does a great job of keeping the puck and staying on his feet to finish the play off.

Whole thing highly recommended.

AnnArbor.com game recap. Pateryn:

“The way he’s been putting the puck in the net, I kinda was a little premature on my celebration,” Pateryn said. “My gloves weren’t off, but hands went up. ... Thankfully, he put it in.”

Press conference recaps from Friday and Saturday from Michigan Hockey Net. I was surprised that Berenson was so down on the Friday performance; I felt like they were mostly dominant 5x5 and got screwed on penalties. They got caught in their own zone three or four times and gave up scary chances but I don't think that's a matter of toughness; it's just that the third pairing is scary.

Matt Slovin on Hunwick's Hobey hopes. Tiny Jesus reference included. Daily recap.

A Face Of Granite, A Heart Of Wood, And A Chance

A Face Of Granite, A Heart Of Wood, And A Chance

Submitted by Brian on February 20th, 2012 at 11:48 AM

2/19/2012 – Michigan 56, Ohio State 51 – 20-7, 10-4 Big Ten

6902910677_465c343a1b_b[1]

Eric Upchurch

There will never be a "Trey Burke photo spectacularrr" tag on this blog, and that's the way Michigan likes it. There are under ten seconds on the shot clock against the top defense in the country, and Trey Burke is wearing an expression of nonchalant determination.

If he smiles at points they are normal-person smiles, not the arm-flailing, mouthpiece-threatening HRRAAAAAAHHHHs of Tim Hardaway Jr or Jared Sullinger. If you're not exactly calm, the sight of Burke bringing the ball up at least dampens your anxiety—whether you're fan, coach or teammate. He is the fastest and slowest player on the court.

As a group, basketball players cluster on the hysteric end of a continuum of public displays of emotion. Burke is a rare data point on the stoic side of things. He'll never have an Aneurysm of Leadership. He may clap his hands a bit, if he's feeling strongly. At some point someone will make one of those images showing the hilariously unchanging moods of an impassive individual featuring Trey Burke.

Trey Burke eating ice cream: nonchalant determination. Trey Burke taking a calculus exam: nonchalant determination. Trey Burke roaring at the basket with a three-point lead in the final minute of a game against the #1 defense in the country with a foot-taller-than-you opponent who knows your darkest childhood secrets leaping at you…

trey-burke-lofted-winner

Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

…nonchalant determination with a touch of premature aging.

Not shown on the jpeg will be the sweet kiss off the high glass and the ball arcing in for the game-sealing bucket, or the previous possession's not-quite-but-pretty-much-sealing blow-by and layup. They will only be implied.

---------------------

Burke is of course one of many Michigan players who should be in over their heads. Jordan Morgan, Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass are the kind of guys who end up at Penn State and valiantly try to make an NIT. Even Hardaway did not have the recruiting profile you'd think—one and only one recruiting service (ESPN) stashed him at the end of their top 100. Burke himself was once a Penn State commit; after he reopened his recruitment his other finalist was Cincinnati.

stu-stepbackMichigan is not valiantly trying to make an NIT. As of February 18th, 2012, Michigan is contending for a Big Ten title. Douglass and Novak are busting out their Kobe impersonations on step-back jumpers it's unbelievable they're even attempting, let alone making. Morgan is outplaying Jared Sullinger, if only for one game.

As I've sampled Big Ten message boards and blog comment sections over the course of the season, one theme continually re-emerges: I don't know how they're winning with these players. We're closer observers and can piece together a story about grit and surprising defense and making up for bad rebounding with transition points, but even that comes to a stuttering, unconvincing conclusion when the subject of Hardaway's three-point shooting comes up. And how is this lineup the fourth-best defense in the league anyway? Michigan has one post player!

Not even we can explain it. It just is.

If you're in the mood for some advice, here's mine: savor this. If this is Michigan's year of re-establishing itself—Michigan's This Is Michigan year—the things that come afterwards will feature a lot of wins and exciting times and fun. They'll also be burdened with expectations that aren't currently encumbering Michigan's motley crew of players rescued from the mid-major humane shelters of America. You know what it's like to have expectations. You're a Michigan football fan.

Here there is a rare opportunity to play with house money for big stakes. It will be the farthest thing from a disappointment if Michigan doesn't quite break their drought this year; if they do, that banner we know we can't give to Novak (and Douglass) despite wanting to will read "Big Ten Champions 2011-2012."

I'll be twitching uncontrollably as Michigan attempts this over the next two weeks. Trey Burke will eat ice cream and fly by in slow motion.

Media

Our own Eric Upchurch's gallery:

Also: AnnArbor.com photo gallery. UMHoops photos. AnnArbor.com also got Gameday-related shots.

Highlights:

Bullets

And then I was like…

maize-rage-anyeursm

AnnArbor.com

I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL DUDE

Titlewatch(!). The chance Michigan ends its 25 year Big Ten title drought is still slim but after Saturday it is extant. Unfortunately, Purdue blew a five point halftime lead against MSU by coming out for the second half and throwing up thirteen straight bricks, so MSU has a one-game edge on OSU and M for the conference lead. Wisconsin is another game back.

Closing stretches:

  • MSU: @ Minnesota, Nebraska, @ Indiana, OSU
  • OSU: Illinois, Wisconsin, @ NU, @ MSU
  • M: @ NU, Purdue, @ Illinois, @ Penn State
  • UW: @ Iowa, @ OSU, Minnesota, Illinois
    Despite the home-road split, Michigan has a considerably easier road than anyone else. They'll probably get at least a share if they win out, which Kenpom thinks has a 15% chance of happening. Winning 13(!) is the most likely scenario, though, and that would require MSU dropping two and OSU one of their last four to get a three-way tie. That's a tall order.

"The pride of Columbus, Ohio." I've never been a fan of the Crisler PA guy ("WHO WANTS FREE PIZZZAAAAA") but I have to give it up: dubbing Trey Burke the Pride of Columbus was A+ trash talk. Sixty-five points awarded.

 

Matta WTF. I've had to shut up about my theory that Matta is as dumb as a rock as his team has annihilated everyone on defense, but Saturday provided a great flashback to the days when OSU was only pretty good and Matta seemed like a major impediment to them being better.

The situation: Michigan is up three with 42 seconds left on the clock as they inbound the ball. Matta doesn't foul, betting on a stop and OSU hitting a three after getting the ball back with seven seconds left. WTF?

You got Morg-owned. Jordan Morgan outplayed Jared Sullinger head to head. Full stop. This is a big component of how:

morgan-skying-2Michigan-56-Ohio-State-51-12-399x600[1]

AnnArbor.com; Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

On two tightly-spaced second half possessions he ran the floor well ahead of Sullinger and threw down explosive dunks as Sullinger looked on in disgust.

Morgan may not be very tall or an explosive leaper but he has no equal in the league when it comes to running the floor as a center. He may have missed his true calling as a tight end.

[INTERMISSION: let's take this opportunity to Homer-drool over the prospect of a 6'8" tight end who can run like Morgan.]

Anyway, Morgan: 11 points on 5/8 shooting, 11 rebounds (2 offensive), 0 TOs. Sullinger: 14 points on 6 of 14 shooting, 8 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 TOs. Michigan has to react to Sullinger a lot more than vice versa, granted, but Morgan was efficient offensively and stellar defensively. Sullinger cannot say the same.

Also, damn that's a pass right there. Also also, if Morgan keeps missing absolute bunnies one of these days I'm going to pass out. He and Douglass had groaners in the first half I dwelled on.

Please, please please let Hardaway get what he wants this time. 13 points on 5 shots, 2 of 2 from three. Four turnovers and zeros most everywhere else on the stat sheet are less appealing but I'll take that efficiency.

Step-back step-ups. I wasn't quite right that Michigan needed to shoot significantly better from three than Ohio State to win—Michigan had a narrow edge with three makes on 13 shots; OSU needed 16 attempts to match—but that's because most of Michigan's long-range makes came from just within the three-point line. Hardaway had a couple of "no no no… YES" long twos with a bunch of time on the shot clock early; late Michigan got critical buckets from Douglass and Novak on NBA-style step-backs.

It's been said before but it's worth repeating: Lavall Jordan has worked miracles with both Novak and Douglass. Those guys now have the ability to get their own shot off the bounce when they have to or they sense an opportunity. Neither produced shot one last year. The development of the two seniors is akin to Michigan's defensive coaches turning Will Heininger into a pretty good player over the course of a single year—evidence that Michigan's player development is top notch. Combine that with the waves of talent in both major sports and you're cooking.

Offensive board obliteration measuration. Not incredibly horrible: OSU rebounded a third of their misses. That's only slightly above the national average of 32.2%. Also it seemed like a lot of them came on a couple of possessions where OSU got three or four putback attempts; patterns like that bother me less because I'd rather have the opponent have one possession with a very, very high rate of success than four with a less-but-still-very-good rate. Also at some point there are just a ton of dudes around the basket and they're all taller than you.

Obligatory reffing section. After trolling OSU message boards for some schadenfreude and discovering the reaction of the Michigan internet to Jay Bilas, I'll abort my planned ref-railin'. Not necessarily because I'm wrong but because I'm obviously so partisan that I can't be trusted in these matters.

Also, I was waiting for the whistle on this late Craft layup attempt and one never came:

Michigan-56-Ohio-State-51-27-597x398[1]

Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

Whether or not this event was actually quality D, it's one on which whistles are all but certain. I do question a bunch of calls but whatever.

Okay, it's just a conceit above. It's a pretty good conceit but this AnnArbor.com photo exposes its limitations:

hardaway-burke-hug

ALL CAN BE FORGIVEN. I'll never say a bad word about Dave Brandon again if

1) Michigan wins at least a share of the Big Ten title and
2) the resulting banner bleeds like this:

zack-novak-blood

Just the trickle down the side.

(Also, that's an excellent demonstration of the differences between Maize and our current yellow.)

Elsewhere

UMHoops recap and Five Key Plays, featuring all of the charges:

Eleven Warriors recap. Andy Reid on Morgan's game. MANBALL? MANBALL:

"He played like a beast," Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "He played like a man against the best big man in the country. And he took that to heart all week. All he heard was, 'Jared Sullinger, Jared Sullinger, Jared Sullinger,' and he wanted to come out here and show he could compete. He did a great job of that and took care of business."

Baumgardner on Morgan and other matters.

Wojo:

This morning, the state of Michigan must be rubbing its collective eyes, because look at the Big Ten standings now. Michigan State, which hammered Ohio State on the road earlier, is at the top with a 10-3 mark (21-5 overall) and could create space with a win at Purdue on Sunday, or create a three-way tie with a loss. Michigan (20-7, 10-4) and Ohio State (22-5, 10-4) are just behind, and who would have dreamed up this scenario?

With two weeks left, Michigan and Michigan State are grappling for a title, and go back to the preseason and try to envision that. While you're at it, go back five years when John Beilein arrived and imagine the Wolverines being here.

"To walk into that arena (before the game) was a bit moving," Beilein said. "I felt it wasn't just a rivalry game. It was a team playing for contention for a Big Ten championship, and I thought it was special. When you're rebuilding a program, there's a lot of little moments, a lot of small victories. This was one of them."

Meinke on Burke. Daily on Morgan. Beard on the hyped-up atmosphere at Crisler. Daily on Novak. Daily on GREATEST FEBRUARY 18TH EVER. Does The White Tiger have a giant head of himself? He's in the right area. Holdin' The Rope not at Holdin' the Rope.

Burke won his fifth Big Ten freshman of the week. I think Cody Zeller is out of moves here. McGary scouting from UMHoops.

The Old, The Quick, And The Dead

The Old, The Quick, And The Dead

Submitted by Brian on February 14th, 2012 at 12:39 PM

2/10/2012 – Michigan 2, Michigan State 3 – 17-10-4, 11-8-4 Gongshow
2/11/2012 – Michigan 3, Michigan State 2 (OT) – 18-10-4, 12-8-4 Gongshow

bilde[2]

Jake Chelios is actually older than his dad. LSJ

Sometime over the weekend one of the announcers mentioned that David Wohlberg and Torey Krug were teammates back when they were little kids and that struck me as odd because Wohlberg is a senior and Krug is a junior. However, a quick birthdate check shows that Krug is only a few months younger than Wohlberg and they could have been on the same teams.

Then you check Chris Heisenberg because one of your buddies asks you if State has anyone coming in next year worth noting and the birthdates leap off the page:

  • Michigan: '94, '94, '94, '94, '94, '93, '91
  • State: '94, '93, '93, '93, '93, '93, '92, '92, '91 (soph transfer), '90 (almost certainly a walk-on, also a junior transfer)

Michigan's always had a few overage kids scattered around the roster—Langlais and Chiasson are the most recent. Often they're depth guys picked up late when Michigan has a roster hole to fill. That '91 above is goalie Steve Racine, who's being brought in to back up NTDP goalie Jared Rutledge. That's inevitable when the NHL is signing guys every summer and every quality NHL-draft eligible player has been committed to a school for two years.

Michigan State has made them the rule rather than the exception, though. Two of eight underclassmen are the proper year for their class. Two of six juniors are as well. The seniors are the only class that looks vaguely like a team that recruits at a high level: five guys who came to college immediately after receiving a high school degree, four who didn't. The creeping Comleyization is clear. 

And yet every game Michigan plays against them is a narrow, stomach-churning affair. This made all the sense in the world when they were coming off a November from hell. It makes less after they've gone on a run that sees them leap to second in the PWR.

Rivalry? I guess. After the Lee/Merritt defections blew up a basketball team it's hard to scoff at all clichés.

----------------------------

The thing about it is: while MSU has played Michigan relatively even this year, that talent distribution has lead to years in which the Spartans are awful alternating with ones in which they're decent. When they're decent they finish a few games back of the champion, make the Joe sometimes, and limp into the tournament as a three seed. Once they managed to spin this into a national title but no one thinks that was anything more than a few near-random games.

So unless there's a galvanizing event like Corey Tropp using Steve Kampfer's head for driving practice, games against State have to compete with those of ten years ago on their own terms. They come up flat most of the time. The best days of this rivalry are so long ago that Michigan State's players can remember them.

MillerRecordBreaker2-lg[1]

I couldn't have done it without your hatred of scoring chances, fun, and America

I miss the days when I loathed Mason's brand of suffocating anti-hockey. It's just not the same when you're beating Torey Krug and a bunch of guys who fondly remember Charles In Charge. When the Big Ten fires up I'll probably switch maximum hatred to Minnesota (because obviously).

The good news is that Heisenberg's page shows Tom Anastos's philosophy. State's got one 2013 commit, an NTDPer, and five 2014 guys. Four of them are '96es. Who knows if they're any good yet, but at least Michigan State is back to recruiting like a team that expects to be elite instead of Southern Northern Michigan.

It will take some time for the Comley geezers to clear the roster, though. We're looking at another five years of Michigan-Michigan State hockey being a cute regional showcase before there's any hope of violent, bowel-shaking clashes. And we're relying on a guy whose first year of coaching is this one. Ask again later.

Bullets that don't understand this newfangled grunge stuff

League status. Ferris State's resounding sweep of Notre Dame (ND's only goal on the weekend came after Ferris took a 5-0 lead Saturday) makes them a heavy favorite. Baseball standings are not super useful anymore but here they are anyway:

Rank Team W L T Pts. GF-GA Games GB
1 Ferris State 14 6 4 47 70-56 24 -
2 Western Michigan 12 9 3 42 63-56 24 1 2/3
3 Michigan 12 8 4 41 72-53 24 2
  Lake Superior 11 9 4 41 60-60 24 2
5 Michigan State 11 10 3 38 70-62 24 3
6 Ohio State 11 10 5 39 73-71 26 3 2/3
  Miami 11 11 2 36 59-53 24 3 2/3
  Northern Michigan 9 9 6 36 62-67 24 3 2/3
  Notre Dame 11 10 3 36 60-62 24 3 2/3
10 Alaska 7 15 4 27 58-68 26 7 2/3
11 Bowling Green 4 16 4 19 34-73 24 9 1/3

If the Bulldogs take care of BGSU next weekend they've got it in the bag unless Western takes all six points in the final league series. Michigan is fairly secure for a first round bye and a second round home series, but the parity of the league is such that Michigan could play damn near anyone in the second round.

Aside: Ferris is now 20-8-4 and #2 in the PWR rankings. They are in position to turn in the best year in program history, and good for them. Bob Daniels's teams have always played an interesting up-tempo style of hockey and if they had a bastard or two along the way at least they were bastards who scored a ton of goals. (Chris Kunitz most prominently.)

I hope they can find their footing in the rapidly approaching new world order. If Michigan isn't going to continue "so-called rivalries" (Berenson's words) against Miami and Notre Dame they'd better be filling their nonconference schedule with Michigan teams. I'm not up for 14 Atlantic Hockey opponents every year.

Pairwise status. Michigan's weekend was as close to a nonentity as is possible: their RPI hardly budged and their record against teams under consideration got slightly worse. Teams move around them, however, and Michigan slipped. That's because Ferris surged forward after a sweep of a strong opponent and BC won the Beanpot.

The ballpark estimate from a couple weeks ago—that Michigan needed to go 6-2 down the stretch to have a one-seed when the playoffs start—is looking a little shaky at the moment after Denver swept Minnesota. That plus some dumb COP stuff gives them the comparison against Michigan despite a yawning RPI gap; you want them to lose a bunch down the stretch.

Teams you want to lose:

  • Ferris State. Comparison is based entirely on RPI and Michigan will win if Ferris slips up down the stretch.
  • Denver. Michigan can't do anything but hope Denver loses games against TUCs.
  • Alaska. Michigan's only opponent near the TUC cliff. M's 1-1 record against them means they would like to see them drop out.
  • Northeastern. See Alaska except M is 0-1 against them.
  • BC. Michigan has that comparison at the moment but it's narrow and they'll lose it if BC beats them in RPI.
  • Lowell. See BC.

It is still status quo: it will be hard to take comparisons against UMD and BU; everything else is fair game.

Treais. All of the secondary scoring is coming from AJ Treais, and he's doing most of it himself. There was a good cycle to get him a scoring opportunity on Saturday but the rest of it is just Treais taking shots from decent or bad angles and sniping it. Hope he can keep it up.

Lynches. Kevin got two this weekend but I was not surprised when Red said this postgame:

“I can tell you, there were times in the third period I thought about not putting him out in the overtime,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “That line got caught in their own zone and they got in trouble. And I thought, I don’t know if I can trust them in the overtime.

“I know that Kevin’s had a good record against Michigan State. I know he’s had a good record at Joe Louis. They got one shift in overtime, and bingo. So you never know.”

That's officially the fourth line, and it's scary when they get caught out there with the bottom pairing and can't clear the zone. Michigan seemed to carry play when that wasn't happening; that was happening far too often.

At least they scored, something you can't say for…

Nominal third line. I don't get it. They look somewhere from pretty to very dangerous when they're out on the ice but the Hyman-Moffatt-Sparks combo cannot put a puck in the net. Hyman has two goals on the year; Sparks hasn't gotten a point since he returned from the land of healthy scratches, and Moffatt has done a little bit of damage but on the power play IIRC.

But it looks like they will score at some point. Sparks is shoveling passes across the crease with regularity; someone is going to get a stick on one of them and put it into the net. Sparks also rang a post last weekend. It'll come. Maybe.

Rolling lines versus riding your horse. It seemed like Krug and Shelgren got literally every other shift both nights, didn't it? It was certainly a different approach than Red's determination to roll his lines and pairings pretty much evenly even when the back end isn't holding up their part of the bargain. Red has occasionally taken a sixth defenseman out of the equation but it seems like M would benefit from putting the big line out there more frequently.

Etc.: WCHA teams murder each other. Photo gallery. Yost Built on the weekend. Someone put together a script to bomb the Hobey vote for Hunwick. 21 minutes of Jacob Trouba isolation video.

Basketball Will Love Me Again

Basketball Will Love Me Again

Submitted by Brian on February 13th, 2012 at 12:02 PM

2/12/2012 – Michigan 70, Illinois 61 – 19-7, 9-4 Big Ten

20120212163355_2012-0212-rb-UM-illinois015[1]hardaway-illinois

miss from the elbow; make from three
Detnews/AnnArbor.com

Sports have their own distinctive rhythms, sounds and moments and rituals that worm themselves into the observer's subconscious after repeated exposure. Basketball is rife with them. The seismic thud of the ball hitting the floor is shockingly tactile from time to time, especially during your first game of a new season. Back-to-back TV timeouts are agony and boredom. And the interval between a three-pointer's departure and arrival, when three fingers are raised in slow motion and a long heavy intake of breath fills the lungs, is the sort of intermittent reinforcement that ends with people saying "but she loves me… she's just misunderstood."

When those rhythms conspire against you in a cosmically unfair (and usually deeply random) fashion, building-wide manias develop. Rattling post after post in hockey, an avalanche of seeing-eye singles in baseball, the clang of iron on open look after open look—these things turn crowds into scalded, nervous things. When the shot goes up, the reaction is something it would take Steve Buscemi to adequately convey.

Oh no, here we go again
Maybe this time basketball will love me
Maybe this time basketball will care
Basketball is just misunderstood
No officer I would not like to press charges against basketball
Maybe next time
Probably next time
Definitely next time
Basketball is just misunderstood

---------------------

When Tim Hardaway Jr. got an open-ish look from three early, he passed it up. He faked, got past the closeout, and took an open look from the elbow. He missed. He got another midrange jumper a minute later, which he missed. A minute after that he got an open look from three, and the building kind of moaned.

It was a complex moan. It acknowledged the fact that this was a very good shot and that if you are Tim Hardaway Jr. and you're not going to take this shot you probably shouldn't be on the floor at all and while there may be some basketball teams who could afford to bench Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan is emphatically not one of them. It also loathed everything about the preceding sentence because none of it meant Hardaway was at all likely to make it. It was a richly subtextual moan. Given enough time and processing power, Ken Pomeroy could calculate Hardaway's shooting percentage from it. He would find it is not high at all.

Hardaway made it anyway. The building thought maybe basketball would bring it flowers.

It was the other one, though, that really got hearts open again, really open and ready for a surprising reversal that is in no way surprising. It wasn't a good shot, really, but when you're 6'5" and can jump really high there are few truly contested threes. This has been a foundational component of Hardaway's game and seemed brilliant when he was hitting 42% of them. When you're hitting 27%, not so much. Hardaway was hitting 27% as he made a token move to the basket and stepped back for a semi-contested three.

He'd hit one earlier and maybe the wincing wasn't quite as overt as he rose up. This one was perfect. It hit nothing whatsoever on its way through the hoop.

Hardaway didn't push it. There was no heat check, because sometimes a thing like making more than half of your shots in a game is a delicate one that must be shepherded through dangers.

------------------------

Hardaway wasn't the only struggler to prop up fading hopes of effectiveness. Matt Vogrich had eight points on three shots, all makes, and Novaked himself a game-changing play* when his super-quick rotation on Meyers Leonard condemned Leonard to the bench for most of the first half. Evan Smotrycz hit a couple threes and managed 13 points; though he turned the ball over twice he was also credited with four steals. Michigan did not get blown off the court in the long stretches where a foul-limited Morgan wasn't on it thanks in large part to Smotrycz.

Both Vogrich and Smotrycz followed Hardaway's example and didn't push it. Between the three of them they took eight threes and hit six. As a team Michigan attempted just 35% from beyond the arc. It was a strange mirror of the first half against Nebraska, when Michigan took two thirds of its shots from three against the worst interior defense in the league. Here they took most of their shots from two against one a team much better on the interior than the perimeter.

Whether that was just what Illinois does—they're second in the league at preventing three point attempts—or Michigan treating their newfound deep shooting touch like a Faberge egg, the end result was a building that did not moan. Primed to believe long shots could actually go through the net, when Vogrich rose in the second half there was just anticipation.

Long may it last. It won't last. It might last. Basketball has been more into flowers lately.

*[Except of course if Novak had tried to do the same thing they would have called a block on him because referees hate Novak even more than opposing fans do.]

Bullets Will Drive Us Apart

As always, rely on MGoBlog for your super accurate predictions. In the preview I openly quailed at the prospect of Meyers Leonard going up against Michigan's undersized front line. At halftime I felt like the six-point lead was a missed opportunity that would bite Michigan in the ass after Leonard returned from the game-changing charge Matt Vogrich took on him for his second foul. Leonard's 7'1" frame sauntered onto the court and… scored one point in the second half. He had all of three FGAs, all of which IIRC were putback attempts (he had four offensive rebounds).

That's the game right there. I'm not sure how much of that was Michigan's doing and how much was Illinois drifting away from the early game plan (in short: "ALL OF THE LEONARDS") in favor of whatever it was they decided to do instead.  It felt like Illinois didn't even bother looking inside much in the second half. When they did, doubles convinced Leonard to kick it out and active hands from Morgan and Smotrycz forced a number of turnovers. It's a tribute to someone on the coaching staff—maybe various someones—that this motely crew of iffy athletes and short guys finds itself an above-average Big Ten defense.

At least I was on point with the increased use of zone—plenty when Leonard was on the court—and the total uselessness of the backup center (zero points, two attempts both on offensive putbacks against McLimans in 14 minutes). Didn't see Tyler Griffey as the guy who would light up Michigan's sagging perimeter defense.

Player items. Hardaway, Vogrich, and Smotrycz are essentially covered above. All had efficient shooting days for a change; as a unit that put Michigan over the hump despite a 5 of 15 day from Trey Burke. It certainly didn't feel like a 5 of 15 day from Burke, but there it is.

Not much stands out from the boxscore except another game in which Michigan had the crap kicked out of it on the boards. Illinois rebounded 40% of its misses. Michigan is now significantly below average in both offensive (10th) and defensive (8th) rebounding. This is an obvious consequence of moving Douglass into the starting lineup after they cruised through the nonconference schedule seeming like a good to very good DREB team. Not that doing that was a bad idea.

The upside of that. Michigan got a ton of fast break and secondary transition points; in the second half when Illinois was crashing the boards hard anything that didn't end up getting rebounded by the trees fell to a shorter faster Michigan player and the resulting transition opportunity was often an odd-man break. I'd be interested to see a breakdown of Illinios points off of offensive rebounds versus points in transition when Michigan actually got the board. I'd guess it would be a small advantage to Illinois, but not one that outweighs the benefits of going small to Michigan's halfcourt offense.

Small sample size. Vogrich is 5/5 from three in his past two games. Result:

Prior to the Nebraska win, Vogrich was shooting 20.5 percent on the season. Now, after one solid week, he's up to 30.8 percent from downtown.

Big Ten… um… title? It is vaguely possible. Via UMHoops, the four contenders (I've taken the liberty of bolding games versus the top four):

MICHIGAN ST. (9-3) OHIO ST. (9-3) MICHIGAN (9-4) WISCONSIN (8-4)
  vs. Wisconsin (8-4) at Minnesota (5-7) vs. OSU (9-3) at MSU (9-3)
  at Purdue (6-6) at Michigan (9-4) at N’Western (5-7) vs. PSU (3-10)
  at Minnesota (5-7) vs. Illinois (5-7) vs. Purdue (6-6) at Iowa (5-7)
  vs. Nebraska (3-10) vs. Wisconsin (8-4) at Illinois (5-7) at OSU (9-3)
  at Indiana (7-6) at N’Western (5-7) at PSU (3-10) vs. Minnesota (5-7)
  vs. OSU (9-3) at MSU (9-3)   vs. Illinois (5-7)
KenPom 41.8 30.5 52.2 54
Home 3 2 2 3
Away 3 4 3 3

You'll note that Michigan is one of them and that their last game against the cream of the crop is their next one.

It will take either a huge closing run or a specific combination of results to get Michigan a banner; I'd say we can forget about it if Michigan loses against OSU. Unless OSU loses at Minnesota that would mean Michigan was two back with four games left.

If they managed the upset, though…

Thompson%27s_gazelles,_Masai_Mara,_Kenya[1]

Illinois team practice. In games they headbutt each other and are eaten.

Weber watch. The vibe I get from the various Illini fans whose blogs I read or who I follow on twitter is extreme frustration with Bruce Weber. That makes sense after concentrating on Illinois's play. The Illini are like a pack of gazelles: breathtaking to watch run around but utterly incapable of passing the ball. Gazelles have hooves, and this fact explains things. Only two or three of the Illini have hooves. The rest of that is on Weber.

I mean, Brandon Paul should be an All-American. Instead he has a lower ORtg than literally every Michigan player with enough playing time for Kenpom to register save Vogrich. If they miss the tourney dollars to donuts Weber is having his hissy fits at home next year*. Because he won't have a job. I'm saying they'll fire him.

*[Seriously. Weber's fits might be worse than those of Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo. At least Ryan and Izzo seem to have a tangible effect on their teams. The only way Weber's message is getting through is if he's screaming "DRIBBLE AIMLESSLY AND THEN TURN THE BALL OVER." I mean:

20120212163510_2012-0212-rb-UM-illinois032[1]

Detnews

Three of 22 pictures from the Detroit News gallery above feature Weber having a fit.]

Trillion watch. McLimans had a rare first-half trillion in four minutes.

Sold out? The game was technically sold out. Emphasis on "technically": large chunks of the upper-bowl endzones were empty the whole game. Who is buying those tickets and then ignoring them? I know they're not season tickets up there, so someone must be purchasing and then not using large chunks of the endzone upper decks. Strange.

Incredulous block/charge of the week. Brandon Paul's late first half clobberation of Trey Burke. Burke was set well outside the charge circle and Paul blew him up; this was an and-one instead of Paul's second. I haven't seen a replay but live it was a crazy call.

The only thing I can think might even vaguely justify the call is that Paul didn't hit Burke in the dead center of his chest. For some reason refs have a tendency to call blocks when a stationary defender takes an off-center or glancing blow from the offensive player. Why I don't know. In a situation like the Burke/Paul confrontation it seems like there are only two possible outcomes: a charge or a no-call. Referees disagree.

Elsewhere

UMHoops recap. They went inside the play with some Jordan Morgan bunnies. The Crimson Quarry breaks down Indiana's deployment of the 2-3 zone. Michigan ran a lot of 2-3 in the second half yesterday and may resort to it at times down the stretch when they're at a significant size disadvantage (most of the time). Just Cover on the argument about 8-10 Big Ten teams making the tournament.

Holdin' The Rope:

People are talking about seeding. A four, a five? There are distinct loci on the map of college basketball that Michigan now firmly occupies instead of the Purgatorial listlessness that once loomed over the program for over a decade. People are talking about Michigan's chances to win the conference title, regular season and tournament. That's not to say that Michigan will win either (the former hinges upon whether or not Michigan can beat the Buckeyes at home on Saturday), but people are talking about it. Think about how insane that is, as a concept and as a potential reality. A little over four years ago, Michigan was busy losing to an Amaker-coached Harvard squad, a moment in history that typifies the Universe's mischievous sense of humor.

It's worth noting that with Michigan's ninth win of the conference season they have permanently taken themselves off the bubble. For the first time since [REDACTED] Michigan's not going into Selection Sunday on pins an needles, even if they lose out. That was a preseason goal Michigan has met with authority.

AnnArbor.com on slumps ending(?). Daily on the limited Leonard opportunities and Michigan's remarkable performance given the Hardaway/Smotrycz slumps.